The Politics and Economics of Attention  14th December 2015                Hepple Lecture Theatre, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol


Matthew Crawford, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Virginia, and author of The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (2015, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Clive Barnett, Geography, University of Exeter: Economies of attention and the acknowledgment of partiality.slides –

View presentation here

Peter Doran, Law, Queens University Belfast, author of A Political Economy of Attention, Mindfulness and Sustainable Consumption (forthcoming, Routledge)

Sam Kinsley, Geography, University of Exeter: Attending to the pharmakon of paying attention

Matthew Hannah, Geography, University of Bayreuth: Modeling attention: some ideas – View presentation here


Seminar Themes (see seminar commentary here):

We are said to live in an age of distraction, with technology, social networking, visually saturated landscapes and hyperactive forms of cognitive capitalism dominating our everyday lives and driving new digital of consciousness (Jackson and McKibben, 2008; Crawford, 2015). There has been a proliferation of business, leadership and self-help literature on the arts and sciences of ‘focusing’ and training the attention which promises to address our societal attentional deficit at the same time as improving individual performance in this complex and perceptually demanding world (e.g. Bazerman, Wallace). Meanwhile, others see the cultivation of attention as having clear collective and political goals, highlighting the role that meditative mind-body practices can play in environmental sustainability, for instance (Doran, forthcoming). There have also been explicit governmental attempts to ‘attract’ people’s attention, not only via the more obvious routes of government advertising but also through instigating new forms of behavioural governance which are easy, attractive, social and timely (BIT, 2014).

Clearly, some actors will benefit from directing attentional landscapes in particular ways. Witness the growth of information and experience architects, web designers, design-based public policy development and the proliferation of behaviour change experts and consultants. Where information is ubiquitous and yet attention is a scarce resource, attention becomes a key source of value (Hannah, 2013). Just note the role of advertising agencies in creating value in this way. For many heterodox economists and cultural theorists then, the ‘attentional economy’ thus signifies a crucial way in which attention becomes a key currency, with consumers themselves engaged in the free labour of giving their attention in selective ways (Crary, 1999; Terranova, 2012; Lazzarato, 1997 – immaterial labour). Attention plays a central role in the realisation and reproduction of cognitive capitalism, and neuropsychological knowledges of perception, memory and plasticity feed into emergent forms of neuroliberalism.

This seminar considers the geographical dimensions of these attentional landscapes, by elaborating on the scale and scope of perceptual environments and considering how these have come to be measured, monitored and managed. To what degree are these landscapes material, visceral, abstract, phenomenological, and/or virtual (Crogan and Kinsley, 2012; Hannah 2013)? How can critiques of the attentional logics of cognitive capitalism be brought into productive dialogue with contemporary pscyho-economic accounts of cognitive scarcity and the uneven spatial contexts in which people perceive, interpret and (inter)act? What room is there for progressive means to educate our attentional and reflexive capacities in a world in which a powerful ‘consultocracy’ of mood messengers engage in the ‘political psychotechnics of’ shaping and cultivating our emotional states, dispositions and habits (Amin and Thrift, 2013)? In other words, what would a critical psychological geography of the politics and economics of attention look like?

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