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(Re)inhabiting the body and the quiet activism of mindfulness

Authors: Chloe Asker*, University of Exeter
Topics: Cultural Geography, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: Mindfulness; quiet activism; corporeogeography; ethnography
Session Type: Paper
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Mindfulness has gone mainstream, and has been integrated into almost all aspects of public life through major institutional and corporate recognition. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBSR, MBCT) have received major criticism under the label of ‘McMindfulness’ (Hyland, 2015; Neale, 2011; Purser, 2019), which casts mindfulness as commodified, homogenised, individualised, rationalised and standardised therapeutic technology of late capitalism. As a form of neoliberal governmentality, mindfulness has been critiqued for producing self-managing subjects responsibilised to cope with the violences of ‘capitalist realism’ (Fisher, 2009).

My PhD research has been exploring the therapeutic geographies of the mindfulness movement. For some time I have been thinking through the tensions that the CfP describes, and mindfulness presents. Although critiqued as a neoliberal technology of the self, for those practicing on the ground (including myself) it is experienced as a radical, creative form of care for the self. Moreover through conversation over the socially engaged Buddhist roots of ‘right mindfulness’ (Barker, 2013; Ng, 2016; Stanley, 2012), the practice is being (re)connected to its original emancipatory praxis through engagements with social justice concerns to ‘radically re-imagine the mindfulness movement’ (Black, 2017).

This paper will think through the modest, embodied, ‘quiet activism’ (Pottinger, 2017) of mindfulness. I will draw on (auto)ethnographic fieldwork performed in the spaces of the contemporary mindfulness movement in Devon, England: two 8-week MBSR/CT courses and three mindfulness retreats. I show that by attending to micro-geographies of the breath and grounded contact between skin and earth, (re)orientations take place, communities form, and world(s) are quietly changed.

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