July 2016 Member Highlight: Pamela Abbot
Honorary Professor of Sociology
University of Aberdeen, UK
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?
My first interest in quality of life was in the 1980’s when I was doing research into health and deprivation and the ways in which deprivation impacted negatively on the quality of life of both poor people and the communities in which they lived in England. I further developed this interest when looking at the lives of elderly people living on marginalised deprived housing estates in the North of England in the 1990s. However, quality of life research only became a central concern in my work in the first decade of this century when I worked for more than 10 years on research projects looking at the negative impact of the social and economic transformation that the countries of the former Soviet Union were having on people’s lives.
The projects had been funded by the European Union to research specifically why the changes were having such a negative impact on health, as measured by life expectancy and specifically why the mortality rate for men from mainly cardiovascular disease in midlife had risen so dramatically. However, analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data we collected made it evident that poor physical and mental health was pervasive and that people were finding it difficult to adjust to the dramatic changes in their lives with everyday expectations shattered. There was a general lack of trust in other people and confidence in social institutions, subject health was poor especially for women and levels of malaise high. From our analysis of the survey data and qualitative interviews and focus group discussions it was clear that a majority of people had experienced a sudden and dramatic decline in their quality of life. We initially used traditional quality of life indicators to research what factors explained differences in evaluation of quality of life. We subsequently adopted the Social Quality Framework to provide a more conceptually driven model for deriving indicators. The Social Quality Model had originally been developed to provide a more holistic framework for policy development in the European Union and was mainly concerned with identifying objective indicators to provide measures of the foundations of a social Europe that would deliver the benefits of socially inclusive growth to all citizens. We used the four foundational factors, Socio-economic Security, Social Cohesion, Social Inclusion and Empowerment to identify individual-level objective and subjective indicators we could use in again new insights into what makes people (dis)satisfied with their lives. Our research demonstrated that all four quadrants have an impact on quality of life.
In more recent research I have undertaken with my colleagues Claire Wallace and Roger Sapsford we have found that this holds for societies across the world, with socioeconomic security being more important in poorer countries and less so in the most developed but in all countries variables measuring each of the quadrants makes a significant contribution to explaining variation in subjective satisfaction. More recently we have moved to the more ambitious project of trying to identify the conditional factors for a reasonable quality of life, what is necessary for a ‘decent ‘society. Our findings were published in June of this year in a research monograph: Abbott, P., Wallace, C. and Sapsford, R. The Decent Society. Routledge.
I have also used the conceptual framework to carry out research in Rwanda and to advise the government on policies for building social cohesion and social inclusion in a society that was torn apart by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
My current work looks at another group of societies that are undergoing rapid transformations following uprisings in 2011, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Clearly the post-uprising trajectories of these countries vary quite significantly, which makes comparing the quality of life of people living in the countries across the region following the uprisings of special interest and significance. One extremely interesting finding that researchers have made is that in a number of countries across the region, and in contradiction to other regions across the world, there was a decline in people’s perception of their quality of life as measured by subjective satisfaction in the 2000s. This is of interest because the uprisings took the world and the countries themselves by surprise, economic growth had been good and generally the countries had good welfare provision and human development had been improving rapidly. Major factors seem to be the raising aspirations of the middle classes, a perception that high levels of corruption meant that societies were unfair and a decline in decent jobs, with people, and especially middle-class educated men, being forced into precarious employment. In the future I would like to develop my work on quality of life by doing qualitative work and trying to understand what makes life ‘decent’ for people from an ‘insider’ perspective.
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?
I have been a member of ISQOLS since 2009. The first conference I attended was in Milan in that year. I joined ISQOLS because it is a professional association dedicated to quality of life research and offers opportunities for engaging with colleagues that have cognate interests. There is not a large interest in quality of life studies in sociology although colleagues in the British Sociological Association have founded a Happiness Research Group which holds regular meetings. I was also attracted by the multi- and interdisciplinary focus of the organization and the opportunity to engage with researchers from a range of disciplines and from across the globe with a common interest in quality of life studies.