Josephine Selander
Josephine Selander.

About the research project at ETH's website

About me

I have been a doctoral student at the Chair for History of the Modern World since September 2019. Following my University Diploma in Performing Arts and Media at Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts, I have been working with TV production and documentary film, as well as founding The Nordic Yoga Institute in Sweden. I hold an M.A. in History of Ideas from Stockholm University (2018) and have written seven books on yoga, philosophy, and psychology. 

Dissertation project

My dissertation, which has the working title Making Mindfulness: Narrating, Mediating, Medicalizing Transcultural Emotion-Knowledge, 1920 – 2000, is about how media, as well as the publics, functioned as actors in the knowledge production of mindfulness. Or in other words, how religious practices, such as Buddhist meditation, came to be perceived as an emotion regulation technique in psychology.

From a perspective of History of Emotions, I examine how the meaning-making of handling emotion has been formatted and changed over time, based on three processes. First, when fiction-, travel-and meditation books were widely published in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. In this material, a narrative can be traced to how Buddhist practices could work as a way to liberate and understand "the Self". The second period is set in the 1950s and the beginning of the 60s when Zen Buddhism as a way of handle emotions was mediated to broader publics in North America through lectures and mass media. Third, the process of the medicalization of contemplative practices will be analyzed, primary in a Swedish context in the 1990s and early 2000s, when mindfulness was broadly implemented into health-care systems and psychology programs.

By studying how the notions of emotional management changes during the study period, I hope to be able to shed light on broader perspectives on the intersection between individual and society. One example is how psychoanalysis during the interwar years in Europe posed new questions about the "Self". Another is how the Cold War and the nuclear family as normative brought life into subcultural groups such as the meditating beat generation: a movement that, in turn, prepared the way for the emergence of new broad youth culture. Finally, I am interested in clarifying today's approaches to emotion regulation, by trying that with theories on how neo-liberal ideas push the responsibility of health to the individual. To demonstrate this: today, mindfulness is offered as an emotion control technique (or as part of the so-called "third wave behavioristic therapies") at most health centers in Sweden, as well as in the rest of Europe and North America. And over the past two decades, a large number of clinical research studies have been done on mindfulness, with promising findings. The purpose of the exercises is to provide techniques for the individual to be able to regulate difficult emotional clusters such as depression or anxiety.

In my dissertation, I wish to contribute with historical perspectives on today's optimistic approach to mindfulness and its effects. By historizing the processes of emotional self-regulation, I intend to highlight how transcultural meaning-making of Buddhist methods has produced not only new knowledge about emotional management in psychology, but also new knowledge about the individual in relation to society. With that, I aim to, on the one hand, problematize the relationship between today's self-regulating techniques and socio-political issues. On the one hand, investigate how the publics have been involved in producing a new emotion-knowledge by taking part in the mediation and the recounting of the descriptions of emotional management.

Research interests

History of Knowledge, History of Emotions, Transnational and Global History, and Cultural History of Media and Publics.

Supervisor: Harald Fischer- Tiné, ETH
Secondary supervisors: Andreas Kilcher, ETH, Staffan Bergwik, Stockholm University