» December 2015 Member highlight: Claire Wallace - International Society for Quality of Life Studies - ISQOLS

December 2015 Member highlight: Claire Wallace

Scotland 2008 (3)December 2015 Member highlight: Claire Wallace

Claire Wallace

Professor of Sociology

University of Aberdeen


Describe your background, experience, and research as it relates to Quality-of-life studies.What initially attracted you to the field of quality-of-life studies? What are some areas of quality-of-life studies you feel are lacking attention? Any advice for future QoL researchers? 


My first interest in quality of life came from trying to understand it’s opposite: social and system

collapse. At that time I was doing research on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where

the breakdown of communism had meant that quality of life had plummeted for most people.

There was a slump in life expectancy which meant that average age of death fell by ten years during

the transition period in some countries. It was as though there had been a major war. In addition

there was a rise in morbidity – people dying of every sort of thing, but cardio-vascular disease was

prominent. This led us to see that undermining the quality of life could really kill people.

The usual explanation for this decline in health was the high rate of drinking and smoking.

However, some of our interviews suggested that smoking and drinking was actually a way of coping

with acute social stress. Drawing on this insight, our more quantitative analysis showed that social

and mental stress was a key driver of poor health. Whilst the collapse of employment and

withdrawal of the welfare state plunged people into poverty, we searched for a way to understand

the social stress that accompanied it. Societal quality of life provided a framework for

understanding how the withdrawal of economic security as well as the disintegration of the social

system undermined quality of life. People no longer understood the “rules of the game” or felt

included in society. The felt acutely disempowered. We came to the conclusion that economic

security, social cohesion, social inclusion and social empowerment were the building blocks of

quality of life in European societies both East and West and so our model of societal quality evolved.

This was further reinforced by the work of Pamela Abbott, who looked at the same issues in Rwanda

- a society trying to reconstruct itself after a terrible genocide in the early 1990s.

I was later involved in analysis of quality of life in the European Union through the European

Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions which carries out a bi-annual

survey of quality of life in EU and Accession countries (those that are on the way to joining).

http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/ef-themes/quality-of-life. I have been involved in authoring a

number of these reports over the years, which have fed into EU policy making. Whilst the absence

of societal quality led to social and individual stress in the former Soviet Union, the presence of

these things helped to improve general satisfaction and quality of life everywhere. Some countries

had these characteristics in abundance (mainly the Nordic countries) and some less so, but all of the

countries of Europe, including the former communist ones were developing higher quality of life by


Then came the economic crisis. Whilst this has had a negative impact on some countries, such as

Greece and Portugal, the general trend is for the quality of life to keep improving across EU member

states. These insights have been captured in our most recent book “The Decent Society” to be

published in 2016 (http://www.amazon.in/The-Decent-Society-Routledge-

Sociology/dp/1138909335). .

In the last years, I have been investigating the quality of life in rural villages in Scotland using

qualitative methods and I am currently focusing on the regeneration in the deprived areas of

Aberdeen drawing on these ideas.


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?

ISQOLS has played an important role in this intellectual journey. The first ISQOLS conference I went to

was held in a lovely old renaissance building in Florence in 2008. I was delighted to find a

gathering of people from all disciplines and to meet some of the great names in quality of life

research. Of course I had heard of the journal “Social Indicators” and had also published in it, but

here was a chance to meet many of the contributors. This helped to reinforce an interest in quality

of life studies that is generally missing in my own discipline of Sociology.

Perhaps due to this lack of engagement by sociologists and anthropologists it seems to me that an

appreciation of the social context of quality of life is still underemphasised in ISQOLS, which tends to

be dominated by economic and psychological approaches, even if these approaches have produced

so much good research. Also missing, perhaps for the same reason, is a more qualitative

understanding of quality of life. How do people see their quality of life and how does it differ

according to cultural contexts? Does life satisfaction mean the same everywhere or is it a “western”

construct? There are now some studies starting to emerge and I hope that the many young and not

so young scholars that I met in Phoenix at the last ISQOLS conference in 2015 will help to take up

these challenges.

For more information see my website http://www.abdn.ac.uk/socsci/research/new-europe-centre/