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Mind, body, discipline: a multi-sited ethnography of a secondary school mindfulness programme, ‘.b’

Hailwood, Elena 2020. Mind, body, discipline: a multi-sited ethnography of a secondary school mindfulness programme, ‘.b’. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) is a charity and social enterprise that develops mindfulness curricula and trains teachers to deliver them. Their secondary school curriculum, ‘.b’ (which stands for ‘Stop, breathe and be’) is the largest classroom-based mindfulness programme in the UK. The curriculum teaches techniques of mindfulness meditation, which involves directing attention towards one’s present experience, but which can also include imagining, remembering and cultivating positive emotion. Alongside mindfulness meditations the curriculum draws on positive psychology, neuroscience and cognitive behavioural therapy to teach students about their thoughts, emotions and behaviours. This thesis draws on a multi-sited ethnography of .b, conducted across four schools in the South West of England and Wales. Over a two year period, I participated in teacher training for the programme and analysed teaching materials; interviewed course developers and 15 .b teachers; observed 45 hours of .b lessons across participating schools; and conducted four focus groups and four interviews with students (total 22) who had completed the programme. Whilst much existing research has focused on determining the efficacy of mindfulness programmes for enhancing wellbeing, attainment and behaviour, this study examined the content of the programme and the every-day contexts of its delivery. Two bodies of theoretical scholarship - that of Michel Foucault and that of Charles Taylor - are drawn on to make sense of .b as a ‘pedagogy of self-cultivation’: that is as teaching students to nurture certain ‘ways of being’. The thesis examines the forms of self-understanding and the practices of self-investigation that are taught in .b, and how these ideas and practices are interpreted by teachers and students in the classroom. The central argument is that the compulsory, teacher-led format of the programme’s delivery is in tension with its commitment to promoting self-reflexive, self-regulating individuals and this impedes its capacity to support some students’ wellbeing. Exploring teaching materials and interviews with teachers and course developers, I show how mindfulness is positioned as enhancing young people’s agency over their emotions and behaviours and facilitating their flourishing. The emphasis on voluntary self-shaping and self-care, however, is at odds with the conscripted mode of delivery and the relatively prescriptive format of lessons, which limits recognition of students’ differential experiences and values. Through an analysis of classroom dynamics relating to social class, student subcultures and behavioural discourse I argue that, in practice, this results in the marginalisation of students whose experiences, behaviours or emotional capacities are outside of the assumed norm. The thesis does, however, take seriously the ‘therapeutic potential’ of mindfulness, and explores how certain students described mindfulness as alleviating, containing or releasing difficult feelings. I contend that future research interested in the effects of mindfulness training for wellbeing should pay greater attention to the ways in which the embodied experience of mindfulness is mediated by social identity, relationality and social space. The final section of the thesis articulates some ethical implications of the current format of the programme's delivery and contends that adopting more consensual and collaborative approaches may be more conducive to young people’s wellbeing.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 August 2020
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2021 01:30

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