In recent years, a research focus on lifestyles has drawn considerable attention from many quarters. Within this area, the influence of several European and continental intellectual currents not widely embraced in American sociology can be detected, some traceable to the work of Michel Foucault. This article will provide a summary and overview of one area of lifestyle sociology that is touched by Foucault’s broad influence on the social sciences, particularly his theories on governmentality.
Governmentality studies consider the manner in which personal autonomy and self-responsibility is conveyed to individuals as an ongoing life-project. Through the lens of governmentality studies, everyday lifestyle choices of individuals are viewed as elements of larger projects of self-development, implemented by therapeutic discourses of risk management, self-realization, and enhanced personal well-being.
After a summary of debates within the sociology of lifestyle informed by governmentality theories, commentary and recommendations will be offered on new directions in governmentality research focusing on subjective well-being or ‘happiness’ as a feature of contemporary lifestyles and as an object of sociological research. A brief survey of new research comprising the interdisciplinary field of ‘happiness studies’ suggests a new direction not only for lifestyle research, but for governmentality studies as well.