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Economies of Attention: Media Technology and Biopolitics

Organizing Committee:



Interaction design and user experience, advanced neuroimaging technology, and modern psycho-stimulants are just three contemporary examples of the dispersed complex of knowledge and systems that contribute to what is known as the “attention economy,” the way in which human attention has introduced itself into all aspects social and political life. Attention has become an essential part of practices of consumption, leisure, labor, pedagogy, medicine, psychology, and, of course, media culture. We are currently in an age where attention itself has become intensely valued both as capital and commodity; it is monitored and managed with increased precision and diversification of techniques across all aspects of the social body: it can be observed as technique in the intellectual, service, and industrial sectors of the global economy; in new medical diagnoses, categorizations, and pharmaceutical treatments; and in changing forms of media connectivity and convergence.

This four session course will unpack how the issue of attention has gained currency within a wide array of institutional and cultural practices which are largely a consequence of the way in which biopolitical formations of internalized self-regulation have become vital to the survival of the 30-year turn to global neoliberalism. Dispersed, heterogeneous, de-regulated, de-governmentalized forms capitalization demand new and diversified kinds of self-regulating attentive subjects. The course will move back in time and develop a genealogical study of how the technological management of attention developed into an essential aspect of our current neoliberalist market logic invested in new forms of biopolitical production. The line of genealogical development will unexpectedly begin at the emergence of techniques of localization in the second half of the nineteenth century, which ran parallel to the rise of classical liberalism or the “gilded age” of capitalism. Localization became a defining empirical quest for understanding the physiological operations of the brain according to the “structure-function” dyad, first implemented in the biological sciences and later migrating to other late nineteenth century disciplinary and extra-disciplinary formations of knowledge. The course will then follow this genealogical thread of localization through early twentieth century automation economies, post-war information economies, and conclude with our own late twentieth/early twenty-first century bioeconomies. A parallel thread of emphasis within this genealogical development will detail the impact and effect of media technology upon these rising biopolitical formations to assess their direct participation in the attention economy, concerning itself primarily with the telegraph and telephone, the cinema, television, and finally the Internet and digital communication technologies. Finally, as ballast to this relentless focus on attention, the course will look at its counterproductive other side, boredom, as a resistant and unassimilable aspect to the sustained diversification of techniques of attention. It will explore how boredom becomes viewed—at particular historical moments and within certain disciplines such as pedagogy, social-psychology, and neuroscience—as a malady and a pernicious threat to the “productive” forces of civilization. Conversely, I will look at how another tradition of boredom in art and alternative media culture becomes celebrated as a communal, inter-subjective wellspring of creativity that eludes capital and becomes understood as a source of creative counter-knowledge. The interest here is not to advocate either of these positions, but to simply point to boredom’s inversed isomorphic development to the attention economy.




TPS's picture

Next Sunday will be the first session of "Neoliberalism and Human Capital" and it may be of interest for you all.

Here is a note from Ken about the class:

Dear All:

Really looking forward to getting started on this material. Feels like the timing for this class is just right.  After the Continental Drift last weekend, which contained a number of related conversations on precarity, finance capital, speculative economy, neoliberalism, and the excesses of privatization; February’s TPS seminar on Immaterial Labor, where Jason Smith led a very rigorous discussion about Autonomia, as well as outside events like Brian Holmes’ presentation on neoliberal subjectivity at UC, Riverside on March 3, there seems to be a number of ongoing threads that can be extended through this class to give it richness and complexity.

The idea for the class is this: the current financial crisis has broadened and intensified an analysis of neoliberal economics as it has been and continues to be critiqued from the left.  But these analyses are usually founded upon the refrain of positions taken up in secondary sources without any direct reference to the primary source material that helped establish and legitimize the economic logic itself.  Many of us on the left--I include myself here--are quick to engage in a critique of neoliberalism without a deeper understanding of what that word actually means in its own native sense. Thus “Neoliberalism” often vaguely stands for anything that generally seems bad about our contemporary political, economic, and cultural situation; this tends to dilute the force of the critiques behind it. With this in mind, one might say that the objective of this class is to know your enemy, to work through some of the key primary texts and discuss the generative historical context of the development of neoliberalism by carefully attending to the writings of the Chicago School, a group that was instrumental in shaping the implementation of the economic doctrine in global economic and social policy ca. 1980.

I still think we should continue to read some secondary sources to fill in the critical analysis side of things, and this brings me to the other piece of fortuitous timing of the class.  It so happens that the scheduling for this class falls on the exact same dates as Foucault’s weekly lectures on American neoliberlaism 31 years ago and which can now be read in English with the recent translation of The Birth of Biopolitics.  Whether written in the stars or simply a serendipitous accident, it seems a perfect time to revisit Foucault’s lectures over the next three weeks, getting his read on neoliberalism in its incipient form.

So the reading for this first class on March 14 will be the following:

Michel Foucalut, The Birth of Biopolitics, pp. 215-237. (March 14th lecture)
Gary Becker, Human Capital,  pp. 1-11.
Gary Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior, Part 1, pp. 3-14

Next week we will read more Foucault along Hayek, Friedman, and possibly some more Becker and/or Andre Gunder Frank and perhaps something about the fascinating cultural history of the Chicago School in Chile. But this is all up for discussion.

All readings are on aaaarg of course.



dinermode's picture

Dear Attention Economists!

Thanks again to everyone for a very productive collaborative discussion on the issue of attention. I presented aspects of our look at attention at conference on Digital Labor a few weeks ago that had a very interesting reception and generated a whole new set of related questions. Look forward to telling you all about that.

In thinking through what might be the best way to continue our discussion, I think the economic theory of Human Capital in the context of neoliberalism offers a rich line of exploration that can really help get at the issue of how political economy and the attention economy became conjoined. I proposed a follow-up class that you can find at the link below. Would be terrific to work together again. I'll start posting readings and discussions on that course list. Love to get suggested readings and feedback from everyone. Looking forward to getting the dialogue going.



TPS's picture

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for a great class and for all the activity on the site. Donna and everyone else, please keep posting links! This class page is already a great resource and we should keep filling it up with things we come across.

Also, I encourage you to propose spinoff classes from this one if there were threads that you would like to continue discussing (eg, "'What comes next?' re: neoliberalism" which would be great!).

Hope to see you soon at TPS.


dinermode's picture

Hi All,

The only reading we are missing for next week that will cover the array of topics on the table is a source on User Experience/Interaction Design. Caleb has suggested a few interesting websites. Take a look at these two if you are able.

I may ad something tomorrow on this topic if I can get a hold on one of the industry standard manuals on UE/IE.

Will get back to you tmrw on that.



dinermode's picture

A couple of interesting diagnostic and public service web sites on ADHD.

dinermode's picture

Hi All,

Sorry for the delay. Had a couple of tech pitfalls in converting and sizing the PDFs for aaaarg. Uploaded are the first two chapters of The Attention Economy.

I also posted a good summary/overview on the relevant Foucault lectures in in a note section (or see Lemke on

Will post Beller and something on ADD in a short while now that I've figured out the PDF thing. Okay, now back to the scanner.


Hi everyone,
I posted an article "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching"

There is a brief description of the article from APA:

dinermode's picture

Hey, thanks for that link. I've been checking out eye-tracking this week as well. Here's a link to some of Google's work (includes a short video where you can watch in RT how a person scans a webpage).

Also check this link out on brainscanning technology and its use in determining viewers responses/preferences to films:

marketing an eye-tracker (there are tons of these available...)



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