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Economizing the Self: Mindfulness Therapeutics and Neoliberalism

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"Economizing the Self: Mindfulness Therapeutics and Neoliberalism" considers how mindfulness discourse and practice functions as a therapeutic technique of neoliberal governance in the contemporary U.S. The project investigates the role of mindfulness psychology in the displacement of normative health programs with the institutionalized schema of well-being, and the political effects of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapeutics and psychological accounts of subject-citizens. It looks to the contemporary widespread use of mindfulness practices in arenas as diverse as education, corporate culture, prisons, the military, policing, public health and personal wellness technology to argue that mindfulness is a potent technique for the self-valorization and realization of human capital. As a psychological discourse and prescriptive procedure, mindfulness both “objectivizes” the subject—transforming subjective phenomena into quantifiable data subject to manipulation—and constitutes an internal regime by which subjects work to self-actualize and govern themselves. The analysis of the various objects in these chapters furthers the conclusion that mindfulness therapeutics engender a depoliticization that expands the world-making project of neoliberalism by constricting political action to self-investment and rendering politics into a therapeutics of the self.

Chapter 1, “Actualizing the Self: Mindfulness and Regimes of Corporate Governance,” looks at how mindfulness is implemented in administrative strategies of corporate wellness to orient subjects to invest in their well-being and the well-being of the corporation, in order to show how these modes of managing and directing well-being intersect with neoliberal governance. Chapter 2, “Regulating the Self: Technologies of Mindfulness and Self-Care,” analyzes how mindfulness functions as form of consumer self-care that reduces life to a series of lifestyle choices, and how the technological mediation of mindfulness apps serves as form of quantifying the subjec in their daily life habits and reifying freedom as individual choice. Chapter 3, “Instructing the Self: Evidence-Based Practices and Pedagogical Therapeutics,” considers the role of knowledge in neoliberal therapeutics—both in its cultivation and calculation through best practices and in the dissemination and pedagogical administration of this knowledge through institutions of public health—to show how mindfulness operates as a technique for behavioral intervention and modification in the backdrop of increasingly privatized education and mental health services. Finally, Chapter 4, “Freeing the Self: The Politics of Mindfulness,” looks at representations of mindfulness in popular culture as a lifestyle that embodies freedom and the incorporation of mindfulness in government as a means of realizing the freedom of the individual and a cure for the nation. The dissertation ends by reflecting on both the limitations and possibilities presented by mindfulness for political organizing through investigating its relationship to political activism.

As a therapeutic technique for self-realization, mindfulness traffics as a means of self-enhancement, self-regulation, self-knowledge, and self-expression. The objects of analysis in this dissertation center on these self-realization techniques in order to shed light on the diverse ways in which mindfulness therapeutics are practiced and utilized in the socio-political landscape of the contemporary U.S. in a way that perpetuates the neoliberal values of entrepreneurial investment, flexibility, and individual responsibility. By examining the implementation of mindfulness in the arenas of work, the market, schools, government and political organizing, this project sheds light on how mindfulness is incorporated into neoliberal governance to engender a government of the self that extends the neoliberal project of economization and depoliticization into the arena of psychic life.

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This item is under embargo until October 12, 2023.