WEEK 9 PROGRESS

As we move into the final stages of our research, we identified specific elements that needed further clarifications and agreement, namely the definition of key terms, formulations of the overarching research question and argument, the implications of our research and how we will go about organizing the format of our presentation.  

Having broken our argument into steps and established a causal link between employment uncertainties within the neoliberal context and the rise of self-optimisation and self-care activities that are a product of the individualising and responsibilising effects of the former, we concluded that such activities are sought out by individuals in search of certainty within themselves, but also co-opted and proliferated by corporate structures. Key terms such as ‘responsibilisation’, ‘workfare’ and ‘labour uncertainty’ were picked out for clarification of definitions.

In order to encapsulate all relevant facets of our research, we agreed on the following question:

What are the origins and implications of the rise of wellbeing initiatives within the neoliberal labour systems?

Our response and argument:

Employment uncertainties inherent to a neoliberal labour system have contributed to the rise of individualised mindfulness and self-tracking activities, which companies have co-opted to maximise productivity within the same system.

From this, we noted how this hypothesis presents us with a ‘chicken-or-egg’ paradox, for it is unclear whether these concepts of self-help and mindfulness are popular amongst consumers because they are being pushed by employers as beneficial for productivity, or vice-versa. We reflected how there is evidence that suggests cause-and-effect relationships both ways. For example, the explosion of mindfulness in Silicon Valley is arguably based on how it is marketed as a way to increase emotional intelligence, suggesting the role of corporate structures in influencing the spread of the practice. At the same time, individual lifestyle choices, such as the active seeking out of meditation and yoga, and how these demands are taken on by app developers and runners of courses also point to a reversed relationship. This brings us towards the implications of our research, which we have begun to identify as the limits of wellbeing programmes as a way of dealing with human uncertainties within the neoliberal labour market, for they appear to serve the purposes of the very systems that generate the uncertainties in the first place.

In the week leading up to the presentation, we will continue our overall discussions of the research in a way that will ensure a cohesive presentation of information, highlight the circular nature of our findings, and finalise the structure and division of our presentation.

Niccoló, Caroline, Nat, Stefan

WEEK 3 PROGRESS

Following the aims laid out from last week, this week we collectively looked at the three broad questions concerning the popularisation of Eastern traditions in the West, the emergence of new ways of responding to existential uncertainty in the contemporary context and the commodification of spirituality and its relations to individualism, capitalism and labour uncertainty. We identified how these three strands intersect and diverge, in order to narrow down the scope of our research. We singled out the relationship between individualism, labour precariousness and the commodification of spirituality and how the first two concepts seem to create an uncertainty that leads to the latter as the key relationship that underpins all three of our original questions.

This led us to the initial draft question: how and why are non-Western religions and spiritual practices commodified and consumed in the face of uncertainty?

In order to incorporate all of our group members’ specialisations (philosophy, politics and history), we decided to frame the potential question in a way that also explores the elements of change over time and the tracing back of the political and philosophical origins of this phenomenon, which led to the question of ‘How and why are non-Western religions and spiritual practices commodified and consumed in the face of existential uncertainty and how can we trace back this uncertainty?’, focusing particularly on the ways in which this existential uncertainty plays out in the contemporary context of globalisation in post-industrial/late capitalism. In our discussion, we also touched upon possible case studies such as the growth in spiritual tourism as a point of intersection between consumption, commodification and spirituality and the tension this generates with actual traditional religious practices. Looking at both scholarly sources and more current and popular publications, the former can help inform our research of the economical, political and historical context, while the latter can offer a reflection of contemporary trends and opinions.

Next week, we will aim to clarify key concepts and categories such as ‘spirituality’ and ‘non-Western practices’, come up with ideas for the possible approaches and theoretical groundings for the research, as well as start gathering and reading initial resources on the key concepts.

Caroline, Nat, Nicolo and Stefan