The Dark Side of Mindfulness Workplace Socialization, Neoliberalism and the Self

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António Carvalho
Rita Grácio


Purpose: The aim of our paper is to analyze the role of mindfulness in organizational socialization, particularly how these techniques are mobilized by corporations to reshape employees’ subjectivities.

Design/Methodology/Approach: Mindfulness is a process of awareness to moment-to-moment experience, allowing subjects to deal with emotions, sensations and thoughts in a non-judgmental way (Kabat–Zinn, 1991). Mindfulness has been characterized as the new opiate of the masses (Dawson and Turnbull, 2006) and the flagship technology of the self of neoliberal capitalism (Zizek, 2005), adjusting individuals “to the very conditions that cause their problems” (Purser, 2019, p.5). Over the past decade, several mindfulness interventions, such as MBSR (Mindfulness-based-stress reduction), have been implemented in corporate settings, aiming to improve employees’ resilience, flexibility, well-being and self-control. Recognizing that neoliberal selfhood requires individuals to rely on self-regulation devices to enhance their health and happiness, mindfulness interventions are emblematic examples of organizational socialization, as workers should undergo a set of performances to control, manage and regulate their affective states, thus increasing their productivity. By the “dark side of mindfulness”, we refer to the ways in which these practices are promoted, disseminated and applied to reconfigure workers’ subjectivities, leading to new articulations of neoliberal governmentalities coupling technologies of the self, affect and efficiency. Mindfulness becomes a disciplinary tool of self-control that aims at maximizing productivity through the moment-to-moment management of affect. Our paper draws on a qualitative methodology, including the thematic analysis of 44 papers published in the Harvard Business Review, and the examination of a specific mindfulness program carried out by the big tech corporation Amazon, which generated controversy.

Findings: Our empirical findings are organized around four main themes: corporate mindfulness as an expansion of neoliberal selfhood; mindfulness and the ability to turn inner work into a driver of productivity; corporate mindfulness as an epiphenomenon of late capitalism; mindfulness as a technofix.

Research Limitations: Our paper relies on a relatively limited data set, and by extending our research into a wider range of journals it would have been possible to identify alternative themes. Moreover, our theoretical framework (stemming from the neoliberal critique) may overshadow relevant phenomenological and embodied aspects.

Theoretical and practical implications: This paper contributes to scholarship within Social Studies of Mindfulness and Organization Studies, unpacking the contemporary articulations of mindfulness, neoliberalism, affect and governmentality.

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How to Cite
Carvalho, A., & Grácio, R. (2022). The Dark Side of Mindfulness: Workplace Socialization, Neoliberalism and the Self. Communication & Language at Work, 8(2), 63–77.