The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing

The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing

The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing

The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing

Synopsis

What could middle-class German supermarket shoppers buying eggs and impoverished coffee farmers in Guatemala possibly have in common? Both groups use the market in pursuit of the "good life." But what exactly is the good life? How do we define wellbeing beyond material standards of living? While we all may want to live the good life, we differ widely on just what that entails.

In The Good Life, Edward Fischer examines wellbeing in very different cultural contexts to uncover shared notions of the good life and how best to achieve it. With fascinating on-the-ground narratives of Germans' choices regarding the purchase of eggs and cars, and Guatemalans' trade in coffee and cocaine, Fischer presents a richly layered understanding of how aspiration, opportunity, dignity, and purpose comprise the good life.

Excerpt

The genesis of this project, as with so many ethnographic endeavors, began with a chance encounter: in this instance, a reproachful look from the owner of a small cinema. I was in Hamburg with my family over the Christmas holidays, and my 7-year-old son desperately wanted to go see the recently released Harry Potter movie. We had come to Germany to visit family but also to take a breather from the frenetic commercial pace of stateside holidays. Still, Johannes had cheerfully attended all of the gemütliche feasts and gatherings, and so we felt that we could hardly deny him such a simple, easy pleasure. Thus, on the zweiten Weihnachtstag (the second day of Christmas, December 26, a public holiday), we looked up the schedule in the newspaper and discovered that a neighborhood cinema had a showing at 5:30 that evening. With good German punctuality, and led by my good German wife, we arrived a few minutes after 5:00, only to find a long line already stretching from the ticket window. We took our place at the end of the queue and arrived at the window just in time to buy three of the four remaining tickets, much to the dismay of the family behind us. As the woman counted our

the little cinema neatly captures some stereotypical German traits: an usher takes
one to assigned seats; there is a shelf for drinks and snacks; of course, beer is sold at
the concession stand. the Harry Potter movie was subtitled, although most foreign
fare on television and at the movies is dubbed, and the German dubbing industry is re
nowned. Some dubbing voice performers have become wellknown celebrities in their
own right, complete with fan clubs. the dubbers work to make the German fit the
mouth movements of the English or Swedish or Russian or whatever language is being
spoken. a long way from the kung fu movies I watched as a kid, it is difficult to tell that
the best German work is dubbed at all—you look closely to catch the occasional gap
between what you see and what you hear. It is a minor point of national pride.

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