Dr Benedict Hoff

Visiting Researcher

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Email: b.hoff@sheffield.ac.uk

Ben joined the University of Sheffield in 2016 and is currently researching with Professor Richard Phillips on mindfulness, curiosity and urban space. He completed his Ph.D in Cultural Geography at the University of Liverpool in 2012 and has previously lectured at the universities of Manchester and Leeds. He also works as an integrative counsellor and as a mindfulness teacher. His research spans the following broad but interconnected themes:

Research Interests

My research comprises various diverse themes which coalesce around an interest in the unevenness of experience and identity across different spaces, places and scales and how meanings of space and place are contested /reconfigured through spatial practices and representational spaces.

More recently, I have trained as an integrative counsellor and mindfulness teacher. My interest in the city and how we mediate our relationship with the urban environment continues, however. In this new phase of my research trajectory I’m interested in how this plays out in the context of mindfulness and psychological therapies. This is the focus of a pilot study I’m conducting in collaboration with Professor Richard Phillips within the Department of Geography entitled: ‘Mindfulness in the City: Taking Notice as Therapeutic Practice’. This research brings together key ideas from mindfulness and Buddhist psychology on the one hand, with work on curiosity, therapeutic landscapes, psychogeography and experimental fieldwork on the other, and will be underpinned by a series of urban retreats to be held this summer. Further details can be found in the next section.

Current Research

Mindfulness in the City: Taking Notice as Therapeutic Practice

More recently, I have trained as an integrative counsellor and mindfulness teacher. My interest in the city and how we mediate our relationship with the urban environment continues, however. In this new phase of my research trajectory I’m interested in how this plays out in the context of mindfulness and psychological therapies. This is the focus of a pilot study I’m conducting in collaboration with Professor Richard Phillips within the Department of Geography entitled: ‘Mindfulness in the City: Taking Notice as Therapeutic Practice’. This research brings together key ideas from mindfulness and Buddhist psychology on the one hand, with work on curiosity, therapeutic landscapes, psychogeography and experimental fieldwork on the other, and will be underpinned by a series of urban retreats to be held this summer.

Buddhist psychology, ‘everyday’ Zen and secular mindfulness

  • Mindfulness is now ubiquitous having been scaled up to a public health level and is increasingly practiced in ‘everyday’, ‘mundane’, clinical settings. This challenges stereotypes of meditation as a solitary, inward-looking and exceptional activity that takes place indoors, in quiet, peaceful surroundings.
  • ‘McMindfulness’ is used by some Buddhists/meditators to distinguish this supposedly ‘sanitised’ form of mindfulness from their own ‘deeper’, more ‘authentic’ practice.
  • This view wrongly buys into exceptionalism: indeed mindfulness’ infiltration into everyday life and its increasing ‘mundaneness’, is actually highly legible to some Buddhist traditions, particularly Zen Buddhism.
  • Zen Buddhism is founded on the principle of ‘nothing special’, sitting with our experience and seeing our reality as it is. Rather than clinging to pleasant experience or pushing away the unpleasant we cultivate an attitude of curiosity and open-heartedness towards our moment-to-moment experience, whatever that is.
  • Human suffering is seen here as our constant desire to ‘get better’, ‘be better’, to get ‘somewhere’. Relinquishing that desire and living with equanimity is what fosters ‘inner peace’ and what is ‘therapeutic’.
  • In Everyday Zen, Joko Beck describes everything as ‘a sacred act’: washing the dishes, driving to work, hoovering the bedroom: ‘You’re doing it anyway,’ she reminds us, ‘so you might as well appreciate it!’
  • This distilled, holistic perspective underpins secular mindfulness practice in the context of how it is taught on an eight-week course.

Intersections with research on therapeutic landscapes and curiosity

  • These ideas resonate with recent critical interrogations of ‘therapeutic landscapes’ and the shift from a focus on ‘exceptional’ spaces to everyday spaces of wellbeing and associated practices/routines (Little 2012: 218).
  • Atkinson (2013) calls for more attention to processes and practices that might act as ‘catalysts’ to unlock the potential of place to benefit wellbeing.
  • Phillips (2013, 2015) responds here through research on ‘curious practices’ (ways of seeing, activities within places and exploration of micro-geographies) which encourage us to ‘take notice’ and experience place differently thereby fostering wellbeing.
  • Buddhist psychology and neuroscience contend, however, that the human brain often works against such curiosity: our mind’s default network is ‘narrative mode’ rather than ‘experiential mode’ and we have an innate ‘negativity bias’ which means we tend to be avoidant rather than approach-orientated, particularly when we’re stressed. However, neuroplasticity means there is potential to rewire our default neural networks through practices such as mindfulness.
  • My research takes forward these ideas and explores how deliberate and sustained cultivation of awareness through meditative practice can unlock our curiosity in the places in which we live and help us experience them differently.
  • I’m interested here in the relational, contingent nature of what is ‘therapeutic’ and the idea that places aren’t intrinsically ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, rather it is the relationship between environment and person and how that relationship is mediated, which determines therapeutic outcome (see Little, 1996; Atkinson, 2013).
  • Teaching
  • Key Publications
  • ‘Mindfulness in the City: Taking Notice as Therapeutic Practice’ (co-authored with Richard Phillips) in Chris Rose (ed.) Walking Together: Psychogeography and Psychotherapy (PCCS Books: Forthcoming)
  • Reprojecting the City: Urban Space and Dissident Sexualities in Recent Latin American Cinema (Legenda: 2017)
  • ‘The Black Body Reframed: Performing Interracial Love in the Films of Lázaro Ramos’ in Lisa Shaw, Tim Bergfelder, João Luiz Vieira (eds.) Stars and Stardom in Brazilian Cinema (London: Berghahn, 2017).
  • ‘Uma experiêriencia com a linguagem do cinema: objectivos, efeitos e consequências (Dependencia sexual de Rodrigo Bellot (Bolivia/USA, 2003)’ in Geografias do Corpo: Ensaios de Geografia Cultural (Porto: Figuerinhas, 2009), pp. 123-144.
  • ‘(Re)Traçando o armário de celulóide: espaço, homoerotismo e identidade no cinema latino-americano contemporâneo’, in Contracampo: Revista do Programa de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação (Niterói: Instituto de Arte e Comunicação Social, segundo semestre de 2008, volume 19), pp. 22-39.
  • Other Information