28 SES 12, The Promises and Dangers of the New Biological Turn in Education
Biologies old and new in western educational discourse are linked by a particular event that crystallized across the 19th century trans-Atlantic north – the braining of mind. Today, braining the mind conjoins two seemingly unrelated turns in the educational field – the neuro turn that crystallized in the 1800s and has been reanimated in the 21st century and the contemplative or subjective turn that has been described as a confluence of longer and shorter traditions: “Grounded both in Western monotheistic traditions and in East-Asian traditions, contemplative practice is an utter manifestation of ‘the subjective turn’’ (Ergas, 2014: 3). This paper examines some conditions of possibility for the braining of mind in mainstream western educational theories and considers the legacies in light of contemporary debates over mindfulness and MBSR practices recommended for teachers. In doing so, we take up Harrington & Dunne’s (2015) encouragement which refuses the simplistic noticing of paradoxes and easy critique of contradiction and moves toward understanding “the anatomy of our discontent”, which provides in part conditions for neuro and contemplative turns to take hold. The paper is in three parts. The first offers a different analytical pathway to the neuro turn and neuromania (Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013). This paper examines two major trajectories that contribute to the onto-epistemological assumptions of organology that enabled the neuro turn – technologies of self and the culture of dissection. The second section unpacks the changing nature of mind theory via the western psychologisation of mindfulness drawn primarily from Buddhist sutras and now most associated with the clinical applications of Kabat-Zinn (Ergas, 2014; Kabat-Zinn, 2011). We demonstrate how the nodal points relevant within the genealogical trace, especially around conceptions of self and science, are being reinforced and rewritten by current efforts to biologically measure mindfulness, translate and psychologize meditation, and diffuse related practices within the teaching profession (Saari & Harni, in press). The paper concludes by refusing the binaries typically associated with debates over mindfulness practice as good/bad, authentic/commercial, and religion/science. It focuses instead on the politico-ethical questions that the biologisation and braining of mind, via the neuro turn and the contemplative turn, leave the field with. We specifically take up questions regarding the redefinition of ‘the subject’, ‘good teaching’, and ‘evidence’ that will continue to impact education studies for decades to come and that contribute to current flashpoints over the nature of being and especially of the human.
Ergas, O. (2014). Mindfulness in education at the intersection of science, religion, and healing. Critical Studies in Education, 55(1), 58-72. Harrington, A., & Dunne, J. (2015). When mindfulness is therapy: Ethical qualms, historical perspectives. American Psychologist, 70(7), 621-631. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281-306. Rose, N. S., & Abi-Rached, J. M. (2013). Neuro: The new brain sciences and the management of the mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Saari, A. & Harni, E. (in press). Zen and the art of everything: Governing spirituality in entrepreneurship education. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization.
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