Geographies of brain culture: optimism and optimisation in workplace training programmes

Jessica Pykett, Bryony Enright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
389 Downloads (Pure)


This paper outlines the strategic alignment of modes of emotional and psychological governance characteristic of ‘brain culture’ with intensified forms of workplace performance management within specifically neoliberal organisational cultures. We introduce the recent emergence of positive psychology-based workplace training programmes in the UK human resources field as a new empirical site for the study of cultural geographies of education. Such programmes promote a culture of optimism and optimal functioning, focussing on the cultivation of positive emotions amongst individual workers and in workplace cultures. This emphasis on wellbeing sits somewhat uncomfortably in the context of the global financial crisis, the UK’s recent recession and the diminishing role of the UK state in the provision of welfare, but is wholly concurrent with the neoliberal promotion of ‘lifelong learning’ and the spread of individualised practices of performance management in UK workplaces. The paper draws on in-depth interviews with trainers and practitioners who variously use positive psychology, mindfulness training and strengths-based competencies in workplaces in the UK, and outlines their connection to the development of positive psychology as a new academic discipline in the USA. In outlining the importance of context for understanding changing workplace cultures and worker subjectivities, a cultural geography analysis of rapid advancements in psychological knowledge provides a useful new perspective on the links between neoliberalism, behavioural change and brain culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-68
Number of pages18
Journalcultural geographies
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • positive psychology
  • emotional labour
  • Behaviour change
  • organisations


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