Mindfulness, Self, and Society: Toward a Sociological Critique of Mindfulness- Based Interventions
Initially introduced to the clinical literature in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness has continued to emerge as an empirically model of intervention used for addressing individual barriers ranging from psychological disorders, to a diverse set of chronic physical illnesses (Kabat-Zinn 1979, 1990, Walsh 1980, Shapiro 2009, Baer 2015). This method of intervention is presented as a viable directive in the face of unaffordable health-care costs all well as other issues of accessibility within the medical system. More recently, mindfulness-based smartphone apps have become a popular way for individuals to tap into this meditative tradition contributing to a multi-billion-dollar health and wellness enterprise. Despite the financial success and literature pointing to the quantitative efficacy of these apps, there is very little qualitative work which investigates precisely how these interventions are taken up and contextualized by the individual in everyday life. To develop a sociological critique of mindfulness is to ask what exactly is going on when we are to ‘direct’ our attention purposefully. Further, how can such a seemingly benign verbal cue to direct attention to something be so profound in the way that it shapes our subjective experiences? This project was designed to explore how mindfulness might be informing the ways in which individuals are constructing, understanding, and practicing self and selfhood in a contemporary neoliberal context - more specifically, I wanted to know how mindfulness may facilitate the emergence of a culture in which the therapeutic narratives of self- management have been placed at the core of personhood. To approach this task accordingly, this project situates the experiences of six users of the Headspace Mindfulness app within the sociological literature to better understand what sort of meaning-making is occurring through the use of mindfulness-based interventions.