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Attention: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

Investigating attention and its role in society

Interrogating the crisis of attention

This workshop will serve as a forum for researchers and practitioners interested in attention to engage meaningfully with each other's work and ideas. It seeks to contrast theories, findings and insights about attention with a particular focus on the potential impact of these ideas on society at large.

To this end, the event seeks to bring together academics from a wide range of disciplines in the social and behavioural sciences, arts and the humanities, as well as professionals in the technology, mental health, educational and policy sectors.

  • Date and time: 14th and 15th September 2022, 2pm – 6pm (BST) on both days
  • Place: London School of Economics and Political Science campus and online (via Zoom)

Workshop Themes

Decreasing attention spans. Social media addiction. Persuasive design and ‘nudge’ policymaking. Mindfulness in schools. The present moment is one of deep anxiety about attention and its potential manipulation by technologies old and new. Despite a keen interest in attention running as a common thread between numerous disciplines and professional fields, attempts to explore points of interconnection, possible syntheses and avenues for cross-disciplinary collaboration remain rare.

This leaves important questions unexplored. How might, for example, research by ethnographers and historians into how habits and practices of attention vary across cultures and times inform thorny debates in psychology and philosophy into the nature of attention and its role in human action? Or, on the other hand, how might attempts in psychology and neuroscience to empirically study attention, aiming to describe and understand its core and universal properties, inform social scientific research grappling with a phenomenon that appears central to cultural, political and economic processes and yet is very difficult to delineate and observe?

With this in mind, the workshop will approach the topic of attention from three overlapping perspectives:

Theme 1: What is attention?

Discussions into the nature of attention, its fundamental properties and its variability.

Participants are encouraged to consider the adequacy and effectiveness of current models and theories of attention. For example, are axiomatic assumptions about attention in numerous contexts, as something finite, scarce and possessed by an individual, always valid?

Further, to what degree might attention be thought of as universal or as subject to cultural and historical variation? Is attention a unique and universally recognised feature of human cognition or rather a set of cultural constructs that variously draw on diverse features of subjective experience?

Theme 2: What does attention do?

Research on attention suggests that it is both a foundational aspect of individual experience and a key element in larger social and technological systems. This theme revolves around the role of attention in social, economic and political systems as well as its functioning in the development of subjectivities, beliefs, perceptions and behaviours.

Participants are encouraged to consider how individual attentional processes at the level of sensory organs, personal habits and practices, and subjective experience relate to large-scale social and economic systems.

Discussions of features, properties and processes of attention that make it an essential aspect of specific systems and socio-cultural phenomena, whether capitalist economies, political movements, artistic endeavours or spiritual pursuits, are welcome.

Theme 3: A crisis of attention?

Concerns about 'attention' are numerous in contemporary society. Most of these relate to the effects that its potential manipulation is assumed to have on mental health, wellbeing, education, and, more broadly, human agency.

In approaching this crucial theme, we aim to bring together participants from professional and academic contexts, including policymakers, and representatives from business and civil society, to discuss questions related to these concerns.

Some of the questions that participants are encouraged to consider are: To what extent are anxieties and concerns about ‘attention’ in contemporary digital societies grounded in good science?

Might bold and interesting uses of attention from artistic, spiritual and historical contexts be employed as the basis for developing new beneficial interventions, habits and discourses of attention in highly technologised societies?

Which roles, until now unrecognised or ignored, does attention play in governance, healthcare and technology? 


Participation and Registration

There are three ways to participate in the event:

Presenting a Paper

Papers can present empirical research (drawn from academic or professional contexts), theoretical interventions, or brief disciplinary overviews of work on attention (histories, debates, etc.) They will be selected on the basis of their relevance to the themes of the workshop.

Please bear in mind that the event will be interdisciplinary and include non-academic participants. For this reason, authors are encouraged to present their work in a langu accessible to individuals unfamiliar with technical or discipline-specific terminology and concepts.

To submit an abstract, please send an email to AttentionWorkshop@gmail.com by the 14th of July 2022 with the following information:

  • Full name and academic/professional affiliation
  • Whether you will be joining us in London or attending on-line
  • Abstract of no more than 300 words

Acting as roundtable discussant

Discussants are expected to have an interest in, and some expertise related to, the themes of the workshop.

This role is particularly suitable for practitioners and researchers who, without necessarily having conducted extensive research, have interesting insights, ideas and challenges to propose.

If you are interested in acting as a discussant, please send an email to AttentionWorkshop@gmail.com by the 14th of July 2022 with the following information:

  • Full name and academic/professional affiliation
  • Whether you will be joining us in London or attending on-line
  • The theme(s)/topic(s) you would like to discuss and any relevant expertise

Attend the workshop

Attend in person or online, listen to the papers, and participate, as desired, in the discussions.

To register, please email AttentionWorkshop@gmail.com with the following information:

  • Full name and academic/professional affiliation
  • Whether you will be joining us in London or attending online.



Fees and Financial Support

There is no registration fee

There are funds available to contribute to travel expenses of presenters and discussants. If you would like to apply for this, please let us know.

This event is funded by the Department of Anthropology of the London School of Economics and Political Science


Attention Forum AttentionForum

Inattention is often cast in purely -ve terms. But scholars coming from v different perspectives are complicating t… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

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Attention Forum AttentionForum

Is it possible to write a history of mind wandering? This is what a team of researchers have attempted in a projec… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

4 weeks ago

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