Many of you know I am working on my dissertation in sociology, which explores neocolonization of yoga in the last fifty years, with an eye for the rise of the yoga industry. This has, alas, been one of the reasons my blog has been quiet in the last few months. I’ve been redirecting my energy into finishing a complete draft of this research, finishing graduate school (expected June 2018), going on the job market, and engaging in a slew of other activism and union organizing work outside of yoga spaces. This blog post is just a brief research update for those interested, alongside access to the slideshows from two recent talks I’ve given in the academic world on some portions of my research in case they are of interest to readers.
I am happy to report I am nearing the end of my graduate school journey. Now in my seventh year, I am ABD (all but dissertation) and writing frantically in the next month and a half to finish a complete draft of what will become my book manuscript. At that point, my committee will be reviewing it during Winter quarter, and then I’ll be engaging in revisions during Spring when if all goes smoothly I will pass and get my doctoral degree. This project will at that point be revised into the proposed book manuscript and sent to academic publishers in Fall 2018, and then hopefully turned into a book. During the last six months I presented on my research at the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the California Sociology Association conferences, and while I (alas!) didn’t video the talks, I thought I’d share the slideshows with you to give you a peek on some of the things I’ve been working on.
“Professionalization, Authenticity, and Neocolonialism in Yoga.”
Association for the Sociology of Religion, August 2017 (Montreal, Canada)
This particular presentation explores work from my third chapter. How is the “authentic” yoga body institutionalized through the development of a professional certification system for yoga teachers? In what ways does the professionalization project within yoga legitimize embodied boundaries, privileging certain embodiments and marginalizing “Othered” yogis? As teacher training programs became more prominent in the 1980s, yoga producers worked to create a system of self-regulation that would promote and retain professional legitimacy. Culminating in the creation of the Yoga Alliance (YA) in 1997, despite controversy this registry remains the dominant credentialing system in the USA. The professionalization project in yoga was influenced by the white and middle-class American habitus of YA founders as well as the historical development of the yoga studio, which delineated the “job” of a yoga teacher and promoted an understanding of yoga-as-asana through the emphasis of group fitness classes. Certification requirements subsequently institutionalized by the YA relied heavily on colonial, Westernized factory models of yogic education that standardized knowledge, monopolized competence, and regulated entrants. The resulting certification programs filtered personnel, adhered to inaccessible program structures and costs, and often encouraged exclusionary marketing and recruitment, reinforcing institutionalized ideals of the “authentic” yoga body as white, affluent, female, thin, young, and able-bodied. In this way teacher training programs serve as near-total institutions, filtering out deviant constructions of yoga as well as “Othered” yogis at various stages in the professionalization process and socializing new teachers into the field in ways that create and maintain embodied boundaries. Thus, the professionalization project can be understood as an exercise of symbolic violence, where the construction of the “authentic” yoga body is legitimated and institutionalized in ways that reproduce inaccessibility, exclusion, and inequality in yoga even while concealing the power relations that are the basis of its force as seemingly natural, “authentic” expressions of the practice and identity of a yogi.
“Movement Co-optation: Bodyblindness, tokenization, & reputation repair in the Yoga Industrial Complex”
California Sociological Association, November 2017 (Sacramento, CA)
This presentation explores work from my sixth chapter. Analyzing the case of industry co-optation of the body positivity movement within yoga, I demonstrate the way body-blind strategies of reputation repair are utilized by dominant actors to maintain power structures. In response to scandals, individuals and organizations in the yoga industrial complex co-opt movement discourse and promote tokenized teachers who do not adhere to dominant constructions of the “authentic” yoga body. This combination of strategies generates the appearance of diverse representation and progressive change in the industry. However, during the co-optation process the political nature of movement discourse is decontextualized or erased through adoption of individualized messages of body acceptance that largely ignore bodily difference, instead reflecting an ideology of body-blindness. Because body-blind approaches rarely result in substantive changes to widespread industry practices or structures, systemic causes which contribute to the internalization of negative body image and inequality within the field endure even as the industry is further legitimized by appearing receptive to social justice concerns. The industry continues marginalizing Othered yogis who now face burdens of additional demands to #loveyourbody and to be #bodypositive in a field that makes it structurally difficult to do so. By downplaying the importance of the movement’s systemic critique of cultural production in the industry to focus only on individual-level solutions of body acceptance, the yoga industrial complex contributes to the marginalization and “eating” of the Other yogi while simultaneously profiting both financially and ideologically from an individualized and depoliticized co-optation of the body positivity movement.
Enjoy yogis, and per the usual standards, be sure to cite if sharing since this is all my original research.