Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era

What is the impact of three decades of neoliberal narratives and policies on communities and individual lives? What are the sources of social resilience? This book offers a sweeping assessment of the effects of neoliberalism, the dominant feature of our times. It analyzes the ideology in unusually wide-ranging terms as a movement that not only opened markets but also introduced new logics into social life, integrating macro-level analyses of the ways in which neoliberal narratives made their way into international policy regimes with micro-level analyses of the ways in which individuals responded to the challenges of the neoliberal era. The book introduces the concept of social resilience and explores how communities, social groups, and nations sustain their well-being in the face of such challenges. The product of ten years of collaboration among a distinguished group of scholars, it integrates institutional and cultural analysis in new ways to understand neoliberalism as a syncretic social process and to explore the sources of social resilience across communities in the developed and developing worlds.

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Posted in Neoliberal ideology, Neoliberalism, Resilience, Social, Social resilience | Tagged , , , ,

Why and How to Teach your Kids Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help kids learn to focus, manage stress, regulate emotions, and develop a positive outlook. Here’s how to teach them the skill.

Last year, my daughter started learning mindfulness in her third-grade class at school. The students would sit in a circle, close their eyes, and quietly take notice of their own thoughts and what was happening around them. Each session  had a different lesson: mindful seeing, mindful hearing, mindful breathing, or heartfulness (or sending kind thoughts to others). The idea was that learning these techniques would help the young students focus better in school and be less stressed out. Though at first, my daughter resisted the mindfulness—she said the singing bowl they rang to start the sessions hurt her ears and gave her a headache—she slowly came around. She began enjoying the sessions and discovering they helped her focus. Since she began using the skill at school, I’ve noticed she is better able to center herself at home, too. When she starts freaking out about something, she is able to stop, take a breath, and shift her perspective to come up with a less emotional—and more productive—reaction. For a very sensitive and dramatic kid, this is a major development.

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Read also: Teaching Mindfulness to Children

Posted in Children, Mindfulness, Schooling, Teaching | Tagged , , ,

The Undergraduate Dissertation

A dissertation is a small-scale independent project exploring a clear issue, problem or question, drawing on theory and research from sociology and related fields. This project can draw on different research methods, including qualitative and/or quantitative techniques: The way you decide to work is up to you – it depends on your topic, and where you stand in relation to your topic. You can start with a theory or hypothesis that you may wish to explore or test, or you can work backward and let the theory emerge from the data. Some dissertation researchers are more interested in exploring a particular theorist’s work in a substantive social context; others want to engage closely with a social issue or problematic and then work through the critical themes that come out of that engagement. Please note that both ways of working are equally valid, and you are not penalized for favoring either way.

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Mindfulness and Ethnography

Asking the right questions is critical to design thinking. A cornerstone of the design thinking approach involves ethnographic research, spending time observing and interacting with people in their everyday lives. The generating of ethnographic information about customers relies on a researcher’s ability to listen well and direct the interview or conversation. But what happens if, as a researcher, you are unfocused? Tired? Nervous? Got lost on your way to the field site? Intimidated by the person you are interviewing? How is the ability to listen and observe affected by one’s own bodily experience and processes? If you are in fight or flight, can you really pay attention?

We in the research community and anyone interested in using research can no longer really afford to ignore the mindfulness movement. Being mindful is an act of consciousness, it’s being aware of something, bringing your attention to external experiences of the present. We hear about mindfulness all the time and the backlash has well and truly begun. Yet, I feel the question we ought to be asking is how mindfulness can support our efforts to listen, connect, empathize, and translate the experiences of others into powerful research insights.

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Posted in Design thinking, Ethnography, Mindfulness, Research | Tagged , , ,

The Limitations of Teaching ‘Grit’ in the Classroom

“We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them,” he said. It can be irresponsible and unfair to talk about grit without talking about structural challenges, he said, referring to the recent interest in interventions tied to the concepts of grit and perseverance. So, what are those challenges? If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse. Howard said that exposure to trauma has a profound impact on cognitive development and academic outcomes, and schools and teachers are woefully unprepared to contend with these realities. Children dealing with traumatic situations should not been seen as pathological, he argued. Instead, educators need to recognize the resilience they are showing already. The instruments and surveys that have been used to measure social-emotional skills such as persistence and grit have not taken into account these factors, Howard said.

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Posted in Classroom, Grit, Schooling, Social disadvantage, Social diversity, Social exclusion, Student | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Case Against Reality

Cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman explains why human perceptions of an independent reality are all illusions. The professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

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Posted in Brain, Cognition, Cognitive science, Human perception, Perception, Reality, Senses | Tagged , , , , , ,

To Learn Anything: The Feynman Technique

Knowing the name of something doesn’t mean you understand it. We talk in fact-deficient, obfuscating generalities to cover up our lack of understanding. How then should we go about learning? There are four simple steps to the Feynman Technique, which I’ll explain below:

Choose a Concept
Teach it to a Toddler
Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
Review and Simplify

If you’re not learning you’re standing still. So what’s the best way to learn new subjects and identify gaps in our existing knowledge?

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Read also: The Secret Algorithm Behind Learning

The Difference Between Knowing the Name of Something and Knowing Something

Posted in Knowing, Learning, Understanding | Tagged , ,

Living with an Open Heart creates Hope

“… really deep, lasting happiness is about connecting with people: being kind to people and being of service to people.” … there is an ever-growing body of science showing that you’re both happier and healthier when you practice generosity and gratitude with intention … caring and connecting is at the core of being human. We are hard-wired for kindness and compassion. Doty firmly believes that practicing kindness and compassion without dogma allows us to look at each other eye-to-eye as equals. He is a veritable evangelist of this belief, both preaching and living the example of walking on this earth with an open heart. Trying to live in this way has become his proudest achievement. In his book, he writes that mental training is the tool to open your heart for meaningful relationships; to give yourself positive affirmation, kindness, and compassion; and to reframe the events in your life in order to practice equanimity. Doty speaks about all this with great enthusiasm, giving multiple examples and emphatically gesticulating with his large hands. He is also surprisingly comfortable with showing his emotions; his voice cracks and he holds back tears while turning red and clearing his throat.

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Posted in Compassion, equanimity, Kindness | Tagged , ,

How to stop being a Workaholic

Working that hard kept the furious, roiling anxiety at bay that I’ve struggled with my whole life, the result of facing daily uncertainty and lack of safety growing up in an alcoholic home. Its percussive beat behind my breastbone was only ever quieted by one thing: working more. And more. And more. A cycle that repeated over and over. Anxiety, then work, then relief, repeat. Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, compares this kind of compulsive workaholism and resulting negative feedback loop to an addictive process—though of course there is no substance involved.  “First you feel obsessional about your work, that you must do it and it’s only relieved by doing. That ‘I have to’ feeling is the compulsion part of it,” Saltz says. After the relief of working more, however, comes a reinforcing behavioral feedback loop. Your underlying anxiety will once again emerge, followed by the compulsion to work. In the gaps between work, when there is actual time for rest and leisure, the wild animal of my anxiety still scrabbles inside me. While there are no formal Twelve Step programs for workaholics, the key to recovery is not much different than in other forms of addiction.

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Posted in Anxiety, Work | Tagged ,

Decolonisation of Education: academics must change what they teach, and how

The idea of decolonisation frightens many South African academics. Since students launched the movement to decolonize higher education in early 2015, I’ve heard several of my peers ask, “What do ‘they’ mean by decolonisation? Going back to the Stone Age? Teaching only about South Africa and Africa? Isolation from the rest of the world?” Legal academic Joel Modiri points out that these “cynical queries by mostly white academics, demanding that students explain to them what decolonisation even means, suggests their own illiteracy about the history and intellectual debates in their disciplines”. These sorts of questions also show a distinct lack of engagement with the African continent. After all, other African countries have grappled with precisely the same issues for decades. In Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana, academics and intellectuals have long tried to break down colonial shackles and decolonise their disciplines and universities.

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Read also: Decolonisation of higher education – Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa

Posted in Decolonisation, Education | Tagged ,