Paradoxes of Mindfulness. The Specious Promises of a Contemporary Practice
Sauerborn, Elgen; Sökefeld, Nina; Neckel, Sighard – 2022
The growing popularity of Western secular mindfulness programs in recent decades has frequently been criticized by sociologists. Mindfulness in this line of argument is viewed as the quintessential neoliberal and capitalist technology of the self. However, this – quite justified – functionalist critique does not account for how mindfulness is increasingly being used to escape growth driven-based optimization pressure. We therefore show, on the basis of our extensive empirical field research, how mindfulness is negotiated as a response to contemporary crises and social change, how this phenomenon can be understood as a symptomatic, contemporary cultural phenomenon. From our ethnographic data from 121 hours of participant observation in mindfulness courses in Germany and six interviews with mindfulness teachers, as well as analysis of relevant literature, we reconstruct four paradoxes of mindfulness. With reference to this, we show to what extent mindfulness is a program of specious promises. For in the final analysis, the broad accessibility and popularity of the program are based on the fact that its application is just as paradoxical as the social problems to which it promises to be a solution.