Quality of life in China : a social representational approach
This thesis explores how quality of life (QOL thereafter) is constructed by lay people in contemporary China. Theoretically, the thesis critiques the mainstream literature on QOL - which uses expert categories to distinguish sharply between "objective" and "subjective" factors in the assessment of QOL - for failing to address the lifeworld of ordinary people and the wealth of meanings which they attribute to QOL. The dominant literature is particularly problematic when transposed to a Chinese context. The thesis therefore proposes an alternative theoretical framework to study QOL: a social representational approach. This approach re-conceptualises QOL as a symbolic construction, which is inherently cultural and historical, and which takes on different meanings as a function of people's social milieus and particular social position. It posits QOL as a system of symbols and meanings structurally bound up with current societal changes in China. Methodologically, the research is based on five complementary research methods and data sets: word associations, semantic differentials, public discourse in the media, individual interviews and focus groups discussions. Data are collected both in rural and urban settings, and amongst different generations of Chinese people. The analysis shows that, deeply embedded in the collective memory of Chinese society, the representation QOL is organised around a central thema opposing having and being. Having and being are antinomic orientations, emphasizing material possessions and spiritual subsistence, respectively, on the one hand, and are dialogically interdependent, on the other. The synthesis of the opposites between having and being constitutes the deep structure of QOL. The thema of having/being is expressed in the two sets of semantic artefacts. Having is objectified in material possessions, together with the pleasure and positive symbolic meanings consequent upon such possessions. Being is objectified in rootedness, connectedness, participation and freedom, and manifested through joy. The thema of having/being spills over, permeates and underpins the critical domains of life: health, family, work, social relations and the natural environment, emphasizing the instrumental and expressive aspects of QOL in each domain. The thema of having/being, intertwined with the coexistence of rival cultural, political and economic systems - Confucianism, Marxism and capitalism - in China's current social transition, provides the framework within which lay people organise their everyday life, assess of their own QOL and develop aspirations.