Conflicting epistemic goods, informal care practices, and multiple research objects in a clinical trial on mindfulness meditation

Activity: Talk or presentation (speaker at event)Talk or presentationAcademic


Mindfulness meditation has become a popular lifestyle intervention in randomised controlled clinical trials (RCT). Studying meditation in an RCT poses the challenge to standardise a complex intervention that is difficult to define and highly context-dependent. In meeting this challenge, clinical researchers juggle a variety of partly incoherent epistemic goods: internal validity versus social relevance, assessing efficacy versus attending to qualitative effects, and objectivity versus trained judgment. Drawing on praxiographic research on an RCT that examines the effects of meditation compared to a foreign language training on healthy ageing, this presentation analyses how the research team enacted conflicting epistemic goods together. Reinterpreting the study protocol, caring informally while playing by formal rules, and adjusting the procedure of a study task were different strategies to respond flexibly to unexpected events in the research process. Deploying these strategies constituted multiple ontologies of mindfulness meditation. Meditation was studied as a cognitive training, an affective training, and a contemplative practice. Tracing how different ways of doing good research shape the study of meditation contributes to STS scholarship regarding the reflexive treatment of scientific inquiries as socio-cultural practices, the role of care in making RCTS ‘do-able,’ and critical approaches to biological reductionism in biomedical research.
Period21 May 2021
Event titleNordic Science and Technology Studies Conference 2021: STS and the future as a matter of collective concern
Event typeConference
LocationCopenhagen, Denmark