Talk at 4S conference, Denver

Talk at 4S conference, Denver

During the annual international meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) in Denver, I will give a talk about my case on Stress, Wellbeing and the Mindful Brain at the Workfloor. I’m in a session called ‘Rethinking the Sciences of the Mind’. It’s a huge conference (for our standards), the complete program can be downloaded here. See below for my abstract.


Making Facts Valuable: stress, wellbeing and the mindful brain


In our rapidly changing society, the use of mindfulness – a form of meditation based on the Buddhist contemplative tradition – has proliferated in clinical, management and life style contexts to counter stress and achieve wellbeing. Popular mindfulness coaches invoke knowledge of the brain and invite their participants to take control of and change their brain functioning, by which they promise to offer new ways to prevent stress and achieve happiness and wellbeing.

Neuroscience has made mindfulness acceptable as a scientific object, both for lay audiences and experts alike (Tresch, 2011). Alongside this scientization of meditation, the brain in these interventions appears as a moral object. Based on an STS and empirical philosophy informed analysis of the appropriation of neuroscience knowledge in popular mindfulness training programs, I explore how the brain precisely is made valuable for addressing ethical concerns of living and working well.

To show how the mindful brain is able to reconcile different (and sometimes conflicting) action programs and ideas of wellbeing, I introduce the notion of ‘moral repertoire’. I argue that the appropriation of the brain in popular mindfulness discourse shows that the explanatory force of such neurobiological claims depends for a great part on how actors are able to incorporate it into existing moral repertoires. As such, I aim to develop a better understanding of the role values and norms play in the dissemination, appropriation and stabilization of neuroscience knowledge, thereby implying a co-evolution of techno-science and morality or techno-moral change (Swierstra et al., 2009).