Media, Visibility, and the Sociology of Collective Attention

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GSOC

Course Number: 5116

How is social attention constructed? How does it relate to visibility? This class addresses such questions through ethnographic explorations of how attention is managed by social actors and the visual media. It focuses (1) on the role of the mass media when it comes to granting, imposing or denying attention. It also focuses (2) on actions conducted by visibility-seeking actors and active publics (triggering controversies, staging expressive events, undertaking terrorist actions).

Various modalities of visibility are explored, both in terms of established genres or idioms of visibility: (video art, classical cinema, television news, pornography...) and in terms of such actions as: « Appearing » (Arendt ), gesturing (Goffman, Dayan, Goldfarb), « Regarding » (Honneth), «Surveilling» (Foucault, Meyrowitz), «Witnessing» (Peters, Dulong,Pinchevsky), « Contemplating » (Video-art), Spectating classical & post
classical cinema).

The central notion under discussion combines most explicitly attention and visibility. It is the notion of «Monstration» understood as the practice of showing. A major practice in contemporary public spheres (Arendt, Habermas, Silverstone, Goffman) monstration carries a strong dimension of implicit or explicit argumentation, and always entails an ethical responsibility: that of providing recognition (Honneth) or stigma; hospitality (Derrida, Silverstone) or rejection.

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