Attention: Economies, Media, Affect (2023)
Dates: 12-17 November 2023 (17.00-20.30, with a break from 18.30-19.15) – intensive one-week course, online + 24 November live meeting in Tilburg
Location: Online & Tilburg University
Instructor: Inge van de Ven (TSHD)
Credits: 6 ECTS
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*This course is fully booked at the moment. If you sign up, you will be placed on the waiting list.
William James famously defined attention in terms of focused concentration: an act of zooming in on one out of many possible objects. In our current hypermediated moment, such acts of focused attention have become more difficult, to the point where we have come to rely on multiple sources of input to be able to concentrate. In such a context, how to decide what to attend to and what to disregard becomes a pressing aesthetic, ethical, and even political issue (if it had not always been).
Where there was once a scarcity of information, we are now dealing with an excess, and a shortage of time, cognitive resources, and especially attention. As a principle that originated in marketing, the attention economy describes how attention becomes currency. Companies, media, and influencers enter into competition for capturing and retaining our attention. Attention is quantified and commodified in a world saturated with media, where we express the value of things in views, clicks, likes and shares. The enormous amounts of texts available, vying for our eyes and brains with other forms of information and entertainment, make the modulation and allocation of attention a daily-faced issue. This situation leads to new modes of reading, viewing, experiencing, consuming.
While both attention economies and the transformation of human capacities for, and modes of, attention have received considerable scholarly attention in recent years, the two are rarely thought together. This course aims to do just that: think through the implications of attention economies for the manners in which we attend to others, to media, and to the world around us. In this intensive, one-week core course, we explore the meaning of present-day attention economies and their psychological, sociocultural, political, aesthetic, and ethical implications. To this end, we examine theories of attention and attention economies through a close reading of core texts from different disciplines, including philosophy, psychology/cognitive science, media theory, film theory, gender studies, and literary studies.
We examine how attention emerged as a problem in the late nineteenth century, and how attention and distraction constituted each other historically, and continue to do so today. We assess to what extent our present-day attention economies are a continuation of both older information economies and nineteenth century developments (including an ongoing ‘crisis of attentiveness’, the rise of psychology as a science, industrialization, and mechanical reproduction), but also identify the shifts that have occurred.
We will map out the mutating relationships of attention to various systems, institutions, and machinic relations, and reflect on the ways in which contemporary concepts of attention inform the media objects, material practices, and representational artifacts that we study as cultural researchers. These include works of art and literature, celebrity/influencer culture, political discourse online, and new media objects like ASMR, speedreading apps, OnlyFans, and TikTok POV videos. In what senses can our objects of study be considered products of their larger context of agents competing for human attention? How do these objects reflect and inspire processes of attentional selection and modulation in their own right? And how do media environments mobilize attentional resources to organize and create new audiences, new forms of emotional and affective labor, and intimate publics? We theorize how present-day notions of attention and attention economies discipline subjects, and what forms subjectivities are thus produced. Can we identify a potential for resisting these economies and their structuring of subjectivities? Key readings include texts by Jonathan Crary, Henri Bergson, Gaston Bachelard, Dan Sperber, N. Katherine Hayles, Maryanne Wolf, Steven Shaviro, Arlie Hochschild, and Lauren Berlant.
- Active participation: Take notes while reading the texts and prepare questions and points of discussion; it is encouraged to link the theory to your own research interests and possible case studies.
- Presentation: Each student presents the theoretical texts of one session to the rest of the group. The student offers an introduction to the readings, summarizes the most important arguments made in the text and connects them to the central themes and question of our course; then presents 2-5 discussion points for the group.
Written assignment on a topic of choice regarding concepts of attention and attention economies in the broadest sense, applying the readings of the course to the students own research project or interest. This can be a case study or a theoretical discussion; possible topics to be discussed with the teacher.