Tightrope Walkers: An Ethnography of Yoga, Precariousness, and Privilege in California's Silicon Valley

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2013

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Abstract

This dissertation offers an account of precarious neoliberal subjectivity by examining the suffering of the privileged as it relates to the practice of Western yoga in California's Silicon Valley. Yoga culture underlines creating connections and community. But my research, based on twenty-seven month fieldwork in an epicenter of the global high-tech economy, reveals that yoga practitioners actually seek to experience and create "space." I suggest that yoga practitioners often cultivate an interiority aimed at giving themselves room from the judgment and expectations of others.

This dissertation portrays the complicated lives of people who are more privileged than most. In so doing, this study questions the separation between "real" and "privileged" suffering; and it explores the ethical and political implications of the problems of the well-off. I suggest that the destructive aspects of neoliberal capitalism and late modernity do not hurt only the marginalized traditionally studied by anthropologists, but also--albeit in very different ways--those who supposedly benefit from them. The social scenes of modern yoga are sites of ambivalently embodied neoliberal logic, where clusters of promises and recipes for an "art of living" are critical about aspects of capitalism while enjoying its comfort. Even though the yogic ethic and politics do not adhere to the anthropological ideals of political action, Western yoga is often an ethical practice that does not simply reproduce neoliberal logic, but also shifts it slightly from within. By creating disruption of subjectivity and gaining space from old and habitual ways of being, yoga sometimes opens up a new territory of change and reflection.

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Item withdrawn 2020-01-06 in order to evaluate and remove sensitive personal information--mjf33; Dissertation edited in January 2020 at request of the author and with approval from the Graduate School. Personal, sensitive information was removed from pages xiii-xxi.

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Citation

Bar, Neta (2013). Tightrope Walkers: An Ethnography of Yoga, Precariousness, and Privilege in California's Silicon Valley. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/7146.

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