Exquisite Attention: From Compliance to Production

Suzanne de Castell


Attention has been a focus of much of the work I’ve done over the last several years, and in particular the ‘attentional economies’ (Lankshear and Knobel, 2002; de Castell and Jenson, 2005) involving teachers and learners in both classroom-based and non-formal educational environments.  What has become very clear is the need to distinguish between attentional behaviours, and other, more complex, more demanding and more generally ‘educative’ kinds of attention.  I’m drawn to the idea of ‘exquisite attention’, (Lather 2007:16) and particularly interested in the pleasures of attention, as well of course as its productivity.  Maybe its exquisiteness, a pleasure of attention, can be related to its productivity. We have long known that attention can be productive indeed, all by itself, seemingly. Consider the Hawthorne Effect, notorious among researchers---as soon as I begin to pay attention to you, you get better at what you are doing. Having other people pay close and careful attention to what you are doing often helps you do it better. But I want to argue that exquisite attention can never come from other people, but only from ourselves. And I want to set out some ways to see an ethics, an epistemology and a pedagogy in this small claim. Probably many of us gain considerable enjoyment from having other people pay attention to our work, but I’m going to argue that this is a mistake, and a misleading one, in several important ways.


exquisite attention; ethics; epistemology; pedagogy

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