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Karelse, Cathy-Mae (2019) White Mindfulness In The US And UK: The Impact Of Racial Neoliberalism. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study investigates mindfulness’ trajectory in the US and UK over the past four decades with attention to the particular adaptation of mindfulness rendered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR). I explore the context into which mindfulness arrives from its Buddhist origins in Southeast Asia, arguing that its subsequent arc is inextricable from the socio-political and economic fabric common to the US and UK. Orientalism, secularisation and Buddhist modernisation coalesce, here, with ideologies of neoliberalism, postracialism, whiteness and individualism to constitute new products and formations. My thesis examines mindfulness organisations arising from the development of secular Buddhism in racialised neoliberal US and UK contexts. I consider whether Kabat-Zinn’s ‘second Renaissance’ universalised mindfulness is a sufficient basis to transform social injustices in these postracial capitalist societies. Further, I investigate the pedagogical architectures and technologies through which the sector sustains itself. I adopt a multi-modal inquiry into three leading organisations interviewing thirty-two staff members and consulting archival and current sources. Thematic coding of semi-structured interviews generated an analysis of the impact of ‘neoliberal postraciality’ (Goldberg 2015: 27) on: organisational demographics, philosophies and diversity strategies; mindfulness’ reformulation, authorisation and edicts of universalism and neutrality; the whitewashing and corporatisation of education. My research shows that the mindfulness sector is governed by asymmetrical power structures prevalent in the US and UK: institutional decision-making and leadership roles are racialised and gendered; neo-colonial re-interpretations of mindfulness that re-enchant the world for privileged groups are universalised; research paradigms repeat dominant discourses of individualism, healthism and whiteness which dislocate distress from its structural causes and place the burden of wellness on the precariat regardless of social conditions. On this basis, adjunctive diversity strategies reproduce hegemonic models and discourses that emphasise ‘sameness’ and ‘common humanity’ and disregard the exploitation of differences to create vulnerabilities. Similarly, educational pathways adopt ideologies and frameworks that reinforce exclusions based on select interpretations of competence and experiential learning. My investigation finds that what constitutes a ‘white mindfulness’ is divested of social justice aspirations. To function in the service of social transformation, white mindfulness requires decolonisation.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Ulrich Pagel
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2021 09:49

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