Workshop: "Political Attention: Policies and Strategies"

How do states and other political actors make use of attention?

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash


Public discussion of ethical and political issues about attention and distraction has tended to be about topics that go under the heading of “attention economy,” i.e., social media, modern technology, psychological health, data privacy and the influence of large tech companies. In this workshop we aim to bring into focus the use of the directing and diverting of attention by political actors: in international conflict, in policy making, in political campaigns, and in social and political coordination, both at a national and at an international level. We contend that this new angle focused on the topic of attention in the political sphere helps to better understand a range of policies and conflicts. In the workshop, we aim to highlight important examples of the use of attention and diversion in conflict and politics, and we will collect perspectives from relevant fields on those issues. Moving forward, we aim to subject those strategies to an ethical analysis regarding issues about political legitimacy, justice, or democratic freedom.

We hypothesize that the issue of attention policies helps connect, integrate, and better understand a wide variety of political tools. For example:

  • Using attention capture through sirens, parades and rallies, statues or iconography.
  • Using and coordinating attention for large-scale social projects and social cooperation (i.e. working to achieve joint attention on city-, state-, and nation-wide scales). Examples would be messaging to direct attention to the safety of vaccination, or diverting attention away from cultural war issues.
  • Using media for the social coordination of attention through music, radio (think about the distribution of the “Volksempfänger” in the Third Reich), film, and, of course, now, smartphones, computers, and tablets.
  • The role of attention in demagoguery, disinformation, and political propaganda, e.g. in the service of aligning and coordinating the attention of individuals, by generating outrage, or by diverting attention from other issues.
  • International campaigns that use attention to generate or calm political conflicts, e.g. directing the attention of populations in Muslim countries either away from or toward Jihadist messages.
  • National and international campaigns whose aim is better understood as attention policy (e.g. attention getters or distractors) rather than as substantial proposals or actions.
  • Using nudging techniques to attract attention to options favorable for the public good.
  • Campaigns to ‘flood the zone’ with anything from fake news to minor and major scandals designed mostly to exhaust the public’s attention to politics, and thus create space for achieving unpopular aims ‘under the attentional radar’.

With this workshop we will, for the first time, bring the topic of attention policies into focus with these and other examples.

Information about speakers and other details forthcoming.

This workshop is organized by the Salient Solutions project. It involves a collaboration between IFIKK at the University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).


Published Feb. 10, 2022 8:25 PM - Last modified Oct. 26, 2022 9:35 AM