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Member Highlight: Mònica Guillen-Royo

Mònica Guillen-Royo, guest researcher at the Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo; Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University (Norway) (from September 2019).

Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies. 

I hold a Master’s degree in Applied Economics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In 2002, I moved to the UK to study for Master’s in Research on European Social Policy at the University of Bath. At that time, the Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) ESRC group researching the cultural construction of wellbeing had initiated its interdisciplinary programme and was working on methods and research design in the four project countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Thailand. I was fortunate to be involved in the WeD project from the beginning, through a PhD scholarship. This enabled me to develop my research interest in the linkages between consumption and wellbeing, supported by the guidance, supervision and friendship of Professor Ian Gough.

In 2008, I moved to Norway and became affiliated with the University of Oslo, first as guest researcher at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM), next as post-doc and more recently through a three-year research position at the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture at the same university. My 8-year engagement at SUM allowed me to deepen my studies of the environmental dimension of wellbeing . Through discussions with Professor Hal Wilhite, expert in practice theory and energy consumption, and my exploration of participatory action-research designs applying Max-Neefs’ approach to fundamental human needs, I developed a new research programme that resulted, among other academic outputs, in the publication of Sustainability and Wellbeing: Human Scale Development in Practice (2016) (see https://www.routledge.com/Sustainability-and-Wellbeing-Human-Scale-Development-in-Practice-1st/Guillen-Royo/p/book/9781138792395).

My recent research has explored the relationship between ICTs, sustainability orientations/behaviours and hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing. In the near future, I intend to investigate the relationship between activism, sustainability and quality of life. This new interest draws on my experience with volunteers and civil society organisations in Catalonia. I found that the same persons who volunteer to work for a democratic and peaceful solution to the political conflict between Catalonia and Spain often  engage in environmental and social-equality campaigns as well. That has led me to ask: Are they the key actors for sustainability change?

What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies?

I remember how the frequent train journeys from my hometown in inland Catalonia to Barcelona, where I was studying, inspired my first research questions on the relationship between consumption and wellbeing. Why are the many motorways, roads, highways that fragment our beautiful natural surroundings taken as a sign of economic prosperity? The quiet, traditional landscapes of apple, peach, olive and almond trees were disappearing before my eyes, in the name of efficiency and modernity. At the same time, hard-working relatives were experiencing job-related illnesses. Why, I wondered, should they have to endure predatory conditions in order to earn high salaries that were actually not needed? We all had more than enough to lead a satisfactory life. These personal experiences influenced my interpretation of Doyal and Gough’s 1991 A Theory of Human Need ten years after its publication. I decided to apply for funding to study at the University of Bath, where Ian Gough was teaching. Through his needs-based approach to wellbeing and the interdisciplinary perspective of the WeD team, I became deeply involved in the study of the relationship between wellbeing (objective and subjective) and wealth, sustainable consumption and economic prosperity.

What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers?

Two challenges that I have encountered could indicate some areas in need of further efforts by QoL scholars. The first concerns mixed methodologies; the second, the relationship between reducing consumption and achieving quality of life. Mixed-methods research is difficult to implement due the scepticism that still exists between different epistemological traditions. Even when interdisciplinary projects on quality of life are funded by international or national research councils, the research findings are often published in a fragmented manner and within the remit of the participating disciplinary traditions. This has serious consequences for PhDs and post-docs. In the short run, they may benefit from the mix of understanding and description characteristic of interdisciplinary projects. In the long run, however, they may find it difficult to fit in standard academic jobs where clear-cut disciplinary backgrounds are still prioritised.

More and more empirical studies address the relationship between pro-environmental behaviours and quality of life. This seems promising as, to my knowledge, no negative relationship has been identified between consuming less or differently and most measures of subjective wellbeing. There are exceptions, of course, when single consumption goods or services are investigated, but they do not seem transferable to general consumption patterns and behaviours. Given the current context of climate breakdown, I would welcome the emergence of inter-disciplinary studies focusing on the relationship (preferably in causal terms) between reduced consumption and wellbeing. This should encompass not only individual behaviours but the role of communities and societies as a whole, working together to address today’s environmental challenges, which range from the dramatic loss of biodiversity to global warming.

How long have you been a member of ISQOLS? Why did you choose to be a member of ISQOLS? How has your involvement in ISQOLS impacted your career/research/advancement in your knowledge of QoL studies?

The ISQOLS community has been central to my development as researcher and academic in general. I was introduced to the ISQOLS through the work and scholarship of Professor Mariano Rojas, whose research on subjective wellbeing in Latin America inspired many of my early studies and those of my current PhD students. The first ISQOLS conference I attended was held in San Diego in 2007, where I presented some ideas for my post-doctoral research. I was surprised at the warm welcome of the many established scholars and quality-of-life experts. The discussions and debates were both rigorous and friendly, a combination that I had not always encountered in other similar fora. I then decided to join the ISQOLS, and have never regretted that decision.

I am not always able to attend ISQOLS conferences, especially when they entail considerable CO2 emissions through air travel to other continents. However, I follow the programmes and stay in touch with many attendees, who keep me updated on current academic developments and achievements. I found the 11th ISQOLS Conference in Venice in 2012 especially memorable from the acqua alta eccezionale that made getting to the hotel an adventure, to the opportunity to reconnect with the ISQOLS community and discuss emerging topics concerning the relationship between sustainability and wellbeing. I particularly value meeting Jorge Guardiola, an inspiring young scholar who has become one of my closest colleagues. He is currently swamped in organisational work for the 2019 ISQOLS conference in Granada. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend, because of logistical problems (starting a new position at Nord University in northern Norway) but I am sure it will be a great success, academically as well as socially. Let me add that I am already looking forward to seeing you all in Rotterdam next year!

Email: monicgu@sum.uio.no


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