Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the UK parliament and with mindfulness advocates, this paper explores the problematisation of attention as a political concern in the UK. An increasing concern with ‘attention’ itself is reflected in worry about the inability to pay attention in an ‘epidemic’ of distraction. Mindfulness, an awareness training practice originating in Buddhism, is being practiced and promoted the UK parliament as a redress to increasingly fractured mental lives. The injunction in mindfulness to ‘pay attention in a particular way: on purpose’, finds a comfortable synergy with concerns about atrophying attentional capacities. Learning techniques that support deep, sustained attention comes to be associated with ‘waking up’: it is an attentional clarion call to live fully in life rather than move through it as a passive sleepwalker, anaesthetised by the short-term gains of immediate attentional gratification. This paper will provide an ethnographic analysis of this striking problematization of ‘attention’ as a commodity, as a symptom and as a cure.