Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Attention has recently become a topic of great popular and academic concern. Human attention and its limits are now key objects of moral panic and capitalist speculation in new data economies, understood through often conflicting social, technological, and political-economic frames. Where the basic premise of the "attention economy" is that attention is scarce and thus valuable, subject to economic modes of comprehension, recent work by scholars such as Yves Citton suggests that we seek other frames, studying the various "attentional regimes" that organize particular domains of attentional life.
This panel follows that call, building on a nascent literature to explore the possibilities for an anthropology of attention. We focus on the social and material technologies, broadly conceived, by which attention is shaped and manipulated in different contexts. The aim is to collect a "dossier" of such attention scaffolds and with them to pursue a genuine anthropological theory of attention as a sociocultural practice. As such, the larger goal is to provide a future resource for scholars and students who are interested in this bourgeoning field of scholarship, as well as to identify new avenues of investigation and conceptual frameworks for future anthropological studies of attention.
To heed this challenge, participants are encouraged to engage with one or more of the following questions: How can we, as critical scholars and concerned citizens, manage the distractions of digital life? To what extent do dominant notions of attention's scarcity and crisis reflect historically and culturally specific ideas about the universality of economic logics and the alleged tragedy of the commons? How might ethnographic practice itself be understood as a technology of attention, and how should we understand its interaction with other such technologies? Does "attention" itself index a culturally specific collection of potentially separable concerns? What alternative configurations exist, potentially or actually?