Resource-Based Perspectives on the Good Life (Buen Vivir)
in the Humanities

Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main Germany
 25–29 June 2018

The “good life” (or buen vivir, as it is referred to in Latin America) has, in recent years, received much attention. It is a topic that cross-cuts disciplines in the social sciences and humanities and includes fields like economics, environmental studies, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, education studies, social work and many others. Furthermore, the concept of “the good life” is relevant not just to the world of academic research. It also plays an important role in policy formulation, politics, development practices and social work. The good life is becoming a principle central to the national political order in a growing number of countries.

The concept originally was developed to criticize neoclassical economic approaches to development that focused on improving material indicators such as GDP per capita. Positive changes to the human condition involve more than improving the GDP, individual incomes, or the access to goods and services. Recently economic studies on the relationship between happiness and income show that more money does not necessarily bring more happiness. Studies in anthropology, sociology and philosophy have discussed how ordinary people around the world value other things more highly than money and material wealth, such as certain abilities residing inside a person; the relationship to nature, God or other sacred entities; or the shape of the political, social and economic environment. The creation, reproduction or embodiment of a wide variety of non-monetary, immaterial values, are central to the achievement of the good life.

The increased focus on the immaterial values important to people’s pursuit of the good life has taken place alongside a changing perspective on resources. Classical political economy approaches view resources as material inputs to the production process, which generates income or national wealth. New perspectives on resources, developed in the humanities, focus on how they can also be of an immaterial nature and do not necessarily fit into the materialistic means-ends logic that is common in modern Western understandings of resources. As a result, they are now defined more widely as the outcomes of people’s practices of value creation. Such practices can include, for example, the maintaining of relationships to the spirits, God or other members of the community through religious rituals or other social practices; co-existing with nature in a respectful and sustainable way, the cultivation of religious or spiritual virtues, or the achievement of certain personal capabilities that allow people to face their daily lives more positively.

Living the good life requires being able to create, cultivate or access the resources to do so. The Frankfurt workshop brings these two strains of research, good life and resources, together. Contributions will thus explore how the newly formulated perspectives on resources developed in the humanities in recent years can shed new light on people’s conceptions of and efforts to realize the good life in specific socio-cultural contexts around the globe.

If you have any questions regarding the workshop topics mentioned above or any other aspect of the workshop in Frankfurt or the project in general, please do not hesitate to contact me, Dr. des. Katja Rieck at k.rieck74 (at)