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Susan Oman

Thesis working title - 'All being well: cultures of participation and the cult of measurement'.

I am currently a doctoral researcher at the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) based at The University of Manchester. My research is inter-disciplinary, bridging the social sciences and humanities, and investigates the politics of cultural practices, participation and well-being.

Academic supervisors

My thesis, 'All being well: cultures of participation and the cult of measurement' considers everyday and elite narratives of well-being and the role of politics and participation in these. I have taken the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Measuring National Well-being: What Matters to You national debate as my primary focus, publishing a chapter on the debate, and my reanalysis of ONS data with Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. Through secondary analysis of data emerging from free-text fields called 'Other' from the national debate's online questionnaire, I hope to demonstrate how survey data is an appropriate starting point from which to understanding well-being in ways beyond those that become social indicators.

In Spring 2014, I re-performed the debate, undertaking a programme of focus groups in settings as varied as prisons and public houses, from Brighton to Powys, and Aberdeen to Derry. In listening to how people describe what matters to them, I am reconsidering what constitutes well-being in a way which is more inclusive and representative of everyday perspectives, practices and experiences. In Summer 2014, a series of elite interviews with key protagonists of the MNW programme at the ONS, enabled me to establish how 'well-being experts' have constructed ideas of well-being and how to measure it. I suggest that there are key differences between these narratives of well-being and international political fora, and that this has implications for policy-making.

Also imperative to my research is a greater understanding of the extent to which what is thought to be 'the good life', as explicit (or implicit) in the development of well-being indicators, is an ideological expression of 'a norm'. I am investigating how this political, moral and philosophical idea of the 'normative' affects the ways in which 'the science' is constructed to make 'evidence' from choices of how and what to measure, and why this is of particular importance when 'well-being' is the object of study.

Research interests

Cultural policy; well-being and happiness; the everyday; politics of method.


Book chapters

Oman, S. (2015), ''Measuring National Well-being: What Matters to You?' What Matters to Whom?', in Cultures of Wellbeing, Method, Place, Policy (ed.) Sarah C. White. Palgrave MacMillan.

Oman, S. (2017, forthcoming) 'The Culture-Well-being Relationship: A Marriage of Convenience?', in 'Culture and Power- Histories of participation, value and governance', (eds.) E. Belfiore & L. Gibson. Palgrave Macmillan.

Journal articles

Oman, S. and Taylor, M. (2017, forthcoming) 'Subjective Well-being in Cultural Advocacy and the Politics of Research'

Articles, other

'The Shared Society : wellbeing through participation and the need for researchUniversity of Manchester Policy, January 2017

'Access in Higher Education: A triumph of hope over experience?' Discover Society, December 2015.

'Why government issued well-being may not make us happier', The Conversation, May 2015.

'A 'snapshot of life'? What's missing from this picture? Two years of measuring national well-being', Arts Professional, February 2013.

'Measuring National Wellbeing: the public debate that was never ours', Arts Professional, September 2012.

''Recent Graduates' Exhibition as Education', Curatorial essay, NYArts Magazine, June 2006.

Published reports

Oman (2016) Mainstream cultural activities and subjective well-being. A review of the literature. Wellcome Trust.

Stuart-Fisher & Oman (2011) Exchange: Collaborations, Performance Arts Learning and Teaching Innovation Network, HEA.



'Culture and Well-being – a Happy Marriage of inconvenience?', Breaking into the Temples of Culture: Exploring Arts, Health and Wellbeing Initiatives in the Community, Tate Liverpool. Friday 27 November 2015.

Other invited presentations

'Subjected to Well-being: Self-survey and social surveys', Vice and Virtue: the Rise of Self-Tracking Technologies and the Moralising of 'Health' Behaviours, Brocher Foundation for experts in the ethical, legal and social implications of the development of medical research and biotechnologies, Geneva. May 2016.

'The Measurement Imperative', Arts Participation and the Health & Wellbeing Agenda, AHRC Knowledge Exchange Network- Participation & Engagement in the Arts, Newcastle. April 2013.

'Culture and well-being: the UK contemporary context', Well-being, Culture and Society: an Inter-disciplinary conference, University of Leicester. March 2013.

Panel papers

'Subjective Well-being in Cultural Advocacy: the Politics of Research', International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR 2016), Seoul, Korea, July 2016.

'Managing the new arts of new data models', Differences, Inequalities and Sociological Imagination European Sociological Association, Prague, August 2015.

Considering participation in the Measuring National Well-being debate: 'what matters' as an evidence base for the 'Good Society'? British Sociological Association Conference, Glasgow, May 2015.

'The Culture-Well-being Relationship: A Marriage of Convenience?', Understanding Everyday Participation Histories, University of Leicester, May 2015.

Civic pride, great strides and the great divide – Stories of participation and inclusion in the UK’s 'National Wellbeing: Measuring What Matters to You?' debate, Civic Pride Political Studies Association Conference, Sheffield, April 2015.

"...going beyond a simple survey of attitudes". The potential of qualitative secondary analysis of a national well-being consultation, Qualitative Approaches to Happiness and Wellbeing Research, BSA Happiness Study Group, November 2014.

"Measuring National Well-being and Cultural Participation. Why don't things quite add up?" Power, Culture and Social Framing, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Annual Conference, Manchester, September 2014.

Happy talk: free-text, 'forced choices' and the 'Other' voices of national well-being, ESRC Politics of Well-being Group, Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal, University of Newcastle, June 2013.

Methodological Challenges of Wellbeing: Forced Choices or Lost Voices?, ESRC Methodological Challenges group: Wellbeing and Disadvantage, University of Sheffield, May 2013.

The UK's 'third places' as sites of participation: everyday spaces as the 'social interstice' of relational aesthetics, Conference on Culture and Social Change: The Role of Aesthetics, London School of Economics, December 2013.

'The UK's 'third places' as sites of participation', RETHINK Participatory Cultural Citizenship Aarhus Universitet, Denmark. November 2013.

'Measuring National Well-being: What Matters to you? (what matters to who?)' Enquiring into Wellbeing: Reflections on Method, Culture and Inner Truths, Centre for Development Studies, University of Bath. October 2013.

'Tackling the 'deficit model' and vulnerabilities of the well-being agenda' In/vulnerabilities and Social Change: Precarious Lives and Experimental Knowledge, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Annual Conference, London, September 2013.

'Normalising well-being, ignoring the ordinary, obscuring vulnerability' In/vulnerabilities and Social Change: Precarious Lives and Experimental Knowledge, Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) Annual Conference, London, September 2013.

'Tackling the Deficit: well-being and cultural participation' Culture, Health and Wellbeing international conference, University of Bristol. June 2013.

'Exchange – the story so far', Exchange: Collaborations, Central School of Speech and Drama. January 2011.

Previous research experience


  • Unit Leader, MA Research Methods Unit, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, 2013 – 2015.
  • Dissertation Tutor, MA Applied Theatre and Drama in the Community, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, 2013 - 2015.
  • Unit leader, Performing Research, Distance Learning, MA Applied Theatre and Drama in the Community, RCSSD, 2013 - 2015.
  • Professional Placement Tutor, BA Drama, Applied Theatre and Education, RCSSD, 2013 - 2015.
  • Visiting Lecturer, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, 2015 - 2017.
  • Visiting Lecturer, Centre for Cultural Policy Studies, University of Warwick, 2014 - 2016.
  • Visiting Lecturer, Department for Culture and Creative Industries, City University, London, 2012 - 2014.
  • Academic Tutor, History and Sociology, Manchester Access Programme, University of Manchester, 2013.

Scholarships, grants awards and prizes

  • 2014 BSA (British Sociological Association) Conference funding.
  • 2014 AHRC Connected Communities Early Career Researcher Bursary.
  • 2013 The University of Manchester, School of Social Sciences Fieldwork bursary. Maximum Award.
  • 2012 AHRC Doctoral Studentship based within ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC).
  • 2010 Higher Education Academy's (HEA) Performing Arts Learning and Teaching Innovation Network (PALATINE) award.
  • 2010 HEFCE award to deliver internship programme that addressed accessibility to employment in the arts for emergent arts practitioners from low-socio economic backgrounds.
  • 2010 Teaching Quality Enhancement Funding award to deliver professional development for students with learning difficulties and tackle barriers to employment.
  • 2009 Fellowship to the Centre of Excellence in Training for Theatre.

Additional information

Following an Art History BA at the Courtauld, Susan initially worked as a curator before moving into research collaboration and partnerships management at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.

Before embarking on her PhD, she completed an MA in Cultural Policy at City University and held a fellowship at the Centre of Excellence in Training for Theatre. Susan also holds membership to the Arts and Health South West; the ESRC Politics of Well-being group; and the BSA Happiness Study Group.