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Abstract This talk represents a distillation of a much larger project called “The Straying of Entities: On the Historical Ontology of Attention Deficit.” This paper claims that historically, theories of attention are formulated according to the ways that knowledge and practices are enclosed. That is, attention is formulated in-part according to how a field or body of knowledge is self-referential. Foucault describes a striking example of enclosure in Discipline and Punish, where disciplinary enclosures are understood as strict and limited units of knowledge, time, and space. Current theories of AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) suggest that this way of understanding knowledge and practice no longer works, and that our current condition may be understand as a crisis of such enclosures, as described by Gilles Deleuze. This talk claims that attention is a organizing concept, that ADHD was formulated in-between enclosures, as a symptom of crisis, and thus does not belong to a single field or disciplinary enclosure. Keywords 20 | Jesse P. Hiltz Attention, Foucault, Deleuze, Attention-Deficit, concept, epistemology
The Centre for the Study of Theory, Culture and Politics, Trent University, Peterborough, ON
n the 18th and 19th century, Europe experienced a qualitative epistemic shift; an alteration within the organisation of knowledge; a shift in both systemic parameters and, thusly, in the ways in which these systems operate. This transition was not localized solely to the ideological, religious, scientific or political strata, but rather, we can understand it as forming along the Kantian intuitions,1 simultaneously taking shape, and shaping, the spatial and temporal axes of life, labour, language, and ultimately the “humanity.”2 The work of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, surveyed and hoped to tease out the complexities of this transition from what he called societies of sovereignty to societies of discipline. It is not simply that disciplinary organisation took the world and arranged its “like” parts into fields, as the positivist programme had hoped, but rather, it required a work of epistemological alchemy that transforms the multiplicity of beings into elements which can be recast into the moulds of the field and arranged by the disciplines. Yet it has been suggested by Gilles Deleuze that we are witnessing another kind of systemic alteration into the post-disciplinary; we are in its midst (Deleuze 1992). In this post-disciplinary society, ordered beings are abandoned in favour of their describable informations. The individual is divided into their smallest atomic components, if the word component still makes sense here, in what seems to be a hyper-bio-politics, not of the body but of its intensities, of mass-informations. And with this, the organisational role of concepts within a field or discipline –that is, the possible ways in which a concept can organize, theorize, and mobilize bodies, spaces and times – has also been altered to accommodate the dawn of informative excess. I will claim here that in what could be called the postdisciplinary, the role of organizing concepts within a knowledge system can be determined by the way they channel information, rather than the way they order individual elements. I will claim that in the early 1970s, the concept of “attention” served as such a organizing concept, a modulator, and that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is 1 I am here making an allusion to Kant’s work in both the Critique of Pure
Reason and Prolegmena to Any Future Metaphysics. 2 I am referring here to the birth of the human sciences as outlined in Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things.
‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 the resultant formation, signifying that systemic operation.3 First let me speak briefly of the transition from sovereignty to discipline, if it is not yet known to us. Beginning around the 17th century, the divine and profane space of the medieval cosmos became a disenchanted, segmented, and cellular distribution of grids, tables and vertical hierarchies. The expansive times of God - mortality, immortality and eternity became a singular time of linear sequence, efficient implementations, corrective exercises, and oriented actions. The world of Sovereignty becomes the society of discipline when the power of divine Sovereignty becomes diffused throughout local, situated, and relational authorities of enclosed spaces, and this next part is key, of distinct techniques and self-referential logics.4,5 (For further consideration of selfconcerned logics see the second chapter of Pierre Bourdieu’s Science of Science and Reflexivity.) For Deleuze, disciplinary societies “initiated the organization of vast spaces of enclosure. The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first, the family; then the school [...]; then the barracks [....]; then the factory” (Deleuze 1992: 3). These enclosed environments formed within the shadow of an ideal: the disciplinary project whose goal was to efficiently and beneficially concentrate, distribute, and order the forces of the human body and arrange its environment. The notion of enclosure here is key. Because 3 This paper represents a condensation of the second
chapter of my graduate thesis, The Historical Ontology of Attention Deficit. Due to the scope of the documents used in constructing these views on disciplinary enclosures, I’ve chosen to cite solely from an article by Michael Hagner “Toward a History of Attention in Culture and Science” in the hope that it will make a complex argument slightly more transparent. 4 The above description should be considered as a swift condensation of Discipline and Punish. 5 The world of Sovereignty becomes the society of discipline when the singularity of king’s rule becomes the plurality of the bureaucrat within the space of civil procedure. We witness that the concern for the shared nature of God and the soul become the introspective analysis and ordering of moods, ideas, and capacities within a humane, functional mind.
the specificity of these laws, techniques and individual knowledges points inward toward their own enclosures, within their own rational boundaries, we think of them as “imminent” to that enclosure.6 We can think of the distinctness of these knowledges of enclosures as being their various disciplinary genetics. That is, the signature of their specific paradigmatic character. Discipline then, understood as dispersion and arrangement of individual units or bodies, yields disciplines – paradigmatic techniques, norms, and systemically enclosed rules that dictate their own concerns. Gaston Bachelard gives us further tools for formulating these enclosures in his notion of the epistemological break. The notion of the break, here, marks the specific points of friction in between what we’ve been calling disciplinary enclosures that are close together either spatially or temporally – that is, in either interests or history. Breaks can also occur within a discipline, wherein divergent techniques and concerns rupture and divide an enclosure creating fields, sub-fields, subdisciplines, or what have you. If we believe that these enclosures are self-identifying and mutuality distinct, what do we make of the knitting that transpires where disciplines touch? Enclosures develop in such a way that they can distinguish themselves from each other yet also strengthen themselves by creating particular strategic entanglements, strategies of translation, and forms of authority. This is apparent within 18th and 19th century Germany, where discussions concerning the foundations of reason and morality both entangled yet distinguished disciplinary enclosures. This example will also serve to demonstrate why it is the discourses of attention deficit do not posses these same systematic dynamics. For the German Enlightenment, the concept of attention took on the efforts in many inquiries into the foundations of reason, memory, and purposeful ethical action. It was 6 The imminences of techniques then, refers to their selfreferential logics, temporal insistence on the individual, and the given intellectual and organizational arena in which they operate – we can think of these crudely as “areas of interest.”
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 through serious introspection, looking into and attending to oneself, that these terrains were explored. Attention was understood to be the medium through which reason maintained a position - as a particular stance on a given object of thought. It also functioned as the strength of the grasp by which the mind held its objects, thus allowing the mind to take up and readjust its position. Because of this role that attention was to play, it was required to play the role of both the object of analysis and the foundation for that analysis (Hagner 2003). In the late 1700s, the discourse of attention brings together German intellectuals and elites to produce scores of “interdisciplinary” commentaries on inner-life of the individual. The German philosopher, theologian, and critic, Johann Gottfried Herder, saw the wedding of anatomy and introspection to be imperative to understanding the attentive reasoning capacity of the soul. According to Hagner, this work on attention, this interdisciplinary cartography of the inner world, made attention a virtue of the elite (Hagner 2003: 672).7 That is, a virtue of those working within strict disciplines. The disciplines of the body, the mind, and aesthetics build thin synaptic webs between various fields wherein the anatomist of the brain read introspective autobiographies, and pedagogies of the Romantic philosophers were read along side novels and writings on the mind. This instance of interdisciplinarity should not be mistakenly read as a weakening of the cellular walls of anatomy, literature, philosophy, and theology. On the contrary, this instance provides some of the most subtle yet powerful evidence of the rigidity of the disciplinary enclosure. The keenest example is found in the experiential psychology inaugurated by Karl Moritz in the late 1700s, which, while participating in this flurry of work on attention, remained dogmatic to the separation of knowledge enclosures. 22 | Jesse P. Hiltz 7 It was from this clarity of reason and observance to
mental principles that a real introspective work on the mind must begin. Keen attention insured sure footing and clear vision within the exploration of the mind’s mysteries. When one attends or is attentive, one makes possible and further aids the projects of Mind and Enlightenment.
Moritz stressed the importance of the break between anatomy and theology - the division between the body and the soul must remain and be always assumed (Hagner 2003: 676). This attention to the immeasurable divide between these disciplines was sacred. Also, the break between the individual elite professions of the urban setting was also assumed and maintained. Judges, lawyers, philosophers, artists, poets, and government officials were solicited for their individual and specialized introspective positions; each representing an elite discipline for which attention played the role of foundation and object of reason (Ibid). We see here that while attention was a shared conceptual object, the rules of conduct for that sharing were strict. A century later, there is a disappearance of introspective psychology and, with the mechanization practices of modern life, the discussion of attention would all but disappear, to be replaced by the behaviourist notion of vigilance, marking a shift in emphasis from the art of thought to the effective completion of tasks. Thus, in the early and mid 20th century, we see a different situation then we did in the late 1700s. With the removal of the focus on consciousness, it no longer remained possible to speak of attending to reason but rather one must now speak of the success and failure in the completion of tasks, reflex testing, and vigilance within the duration of a given activity. Where in the late 1700s attention was an elite disciplinary virtue of the professional thinker, in the mid 1900s, vigilance means the ability of an individual to maintain a normalized position in respect to disciplinary techniques. In other words, attention-as-vigilance meant a virtue in attending to the basic structures of the discipline fabric at its most basic level. Vigilance is a virtue, not of the elite, but of any individual capable of being disciplined: i.e. being placed within specific disciplinary enclosures.8 Thus, vigilance 8 This is probably most apparent when Georg Simmel
writes of the compromises made in the metropolis between the mind’s capacity to make distinctions between stimuli (attention) and the blazé and docile attitude that occurs when the brain can not longer process the barrage of phenomena (discipline). See Simmel, Georg. 1971 The Metropolis and Mental Life. In Georg Simmel: On Individu-
‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 is a concept of concern within each enclosure, and its concern is defined specifically due the disciplinary techniques that require vigilance. It should be no surprise that all techniques require the virtue of vigilance to be ultimately mobilized. However, the virtuosity of vigilance is paralleled by another development. Because of the pan-disciplinary nature of the virtue of vigilance, (that is, it concerns each discipline) the distinct disciplines of become fused at their margins, suturing themselves at level where the virtue of vigilance became a shared conceptual object. Disciplinary enclosures thus begin look outside of themselves to arrogate and maximize their capacity for vigilance. At this time, we see several new and distinct kinds of people coming came into play in relation to their capacity for vigilance: a person could be hyperkinetic, have minimal brain dysfunction, or could have what was called a “specific learning disability”; all of which remain fairly secured between the borders of education, government, psychology and neurology. Unlike the German interdisciplinary boom around attention and introspection, these interactions breached the disciplinary enclosures at specific points. They represented disruptions of the kinetic, the neurological, and the pedagological dimensions of one’s disciplinary vigilance. “Interdisciplinary” alliances were made, yet the disciplinary logics of each enclosure remained at odds with each other. We see at this time, a flux of definitions, irresolvable interpretations, and constant vocabulary reform along with heated debates about establishing clear diagnoses for complex groups of behaviour deviances in respect to vigilance. These interdisciplinary hybrids (of hyperkinesias, minimal brain dysfunction, learning disability) could find no home within any given enclosure because of the negotiated networks that were mobilized between disciplines to form them, 9 and therefore, they could not be totalized nor lay claim to a single disciplinary logic. Speaking systematically, they were created fragmentarily at the borders of, and contested
ality and Social Forms. Pg. 324-339. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 9 I’m referring here to the work of Bruno Latour.
within, those different disciplinary enclosures. This complexity reveals what Deleuze called the crisis of interiors –a thinning and rupturing of the enclosure (Deleuze 1992: 3-4). The diffusion and ordering of the disciplinary project had turned on itself, creating such minute differences between such small units, and establishing such complex relations between them, that it was flooded by the avalanche of numbers, facts and classifications. In short, the walls of the enclosure become over burdened with, and shot through by, a fluidity we call information. In 1972, in The Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, a rhetorical move is made which characterizes a definitive shift to a postdisciplinary conceptual object. This article is noted by Thomas Armstrong to be birthplace of concept of an attention deficit (Armstrong 2006:40).10 Virginia I. Douglas, of McGill University, in an article called “Stop, Look, and Listen,” draws together the disperse elements from hyperkinesias, brain damage, and learning disability (Douglas 1972). This article serves as the site where complications in vigilance, i.e. behaviour deviance, learning deficiency, educational underachievement, and pharmacological intervention come into violent intimate contact, giving rise to a conceptual object that operates within these spaces but is not owned by any single one, and which effectively resides elsewhere than within an enclosure. The conditions of this possibility rest on Douglas’ ability to mobilize information, without the need of strict, enclosed disciplinary logics and techniques. The informatics of the kinetic, the neurological, and the clinical are deferred from their enclosures, like various channels, through a linguistic caveat into a transdisciplinary assemblage. What does this mean? It is here the word “attention” reappears. Through a series of speculative asides, Douglas (1972) suggests that “attention,” which remains undefined and aloof in the work, is the primary 10 Although I have shown that this has actually occurred
two years earlier in a debate in Letters to the Editor The New York Review of Books between John Holt, Carlos Carrillo and Douglas, in 1970.
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009 thread that draws these dispersed informations together. The re-emergence of “attention” displaces the primacy of the vigilance of tasks, making vigilance only one of the connotations of “attention’s” now multifaceted operation. Douglas’ use of “attention” mobilizes not only the characteristic of maintained efficiency, nor only the particular function of mind, nor the foundation of experience and reason. It also now names the condition for ethics, for social structure, for happiness, and for law. The word “attention” serves as the filter that gives access to specific information: it gives access to the inattentiveness of the hyperactive child but denies access to the importance of their lack of motor skills; it gives access to the popularity of the minimal brain damage diagnosis but denies its “loose physiologizing” (Douglas 1972: 272); it give access to the prevalence of poor test scores of the learning disabled but denies its complex socio-environmental function (Douglas 1972: 261). The disciplines here become shades of informations and conceptual objects work by organizing that information under a single name by the congruency of their shades, that is, by the resemblance of informations, regardless of there disciplinary localization. In the crisis of enclosure, the word “attention” marks the conditions of human life in all its capacities. To close, I’d like to quote sociologist Adam Rafalovich writes at the very start of his 2004 book, Framing ADHD Children: Indeed, medical science is no longer the sole proprietor of ADHD discourse, nor is any one perspective, for that matter. Our contemporary discussion of ADHD is represented by a plurality of views: academic, clinical, pop cultural, journalistic, and so on. The various and pluralized interpretations of what does or does not constitute ADHD [...] comprise the motley tapestry of today’s ADHD discourse are largely a product of the vagaries of this disorder. (2004:1-2). There is key element here that Rafalovich has overlooked, I claim. It is not that medical science is no longer the sole proprietor of the ADHD discourse; it is that there never was a sole proprietor, a primary enclosure, or a singular logic for ADHD. With Douglas, both the cluster of symptoms and the concept of attention bear a multitude of genetically different disciplinary elements. After this “crisis of the enclosure,” like a hydra with Janus faces, such a concept springs up, reaching out in many directions, yet doing so under a single name.
References Armstrong, Thomas 2006 Canaries in the Coal Mine. Critical New Perspectives on ADHD. Gwynedd Lloyd, Joan Stead, David Cohen, eds. 34-44. New York: Routledge. Bourdieu, Pierre 2004 Science of Science and Reflexivity. Richard Nice, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Deleuze, Gilles 1992 Postscript on the Societies of Control. October 59: 3-7. Douglas, Virginia I 1972 Stop, Look and Listen. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. 4(4): 259-282. Foucault, Michel 2002 The Order of Things. New York: Routledge. ________, ______ 1995 Discipline and Punish. Alan Sheridan, trans. New York: Vintage Books. Hagner, Michael 2003 Toward a History of Attention in Culture and Science. MLN 118(3): 670-687. Rafalovich, Adam 2004 Framing ADHD Children. New York: Lexington Books. Simmel, Georg 1971 The Metropolis and Mental Life. In Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms. Pg. 324339. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Jesse P. Hiltz is a graudate of the Centre for the
Study of Theory, Culture and Politics at Trent University, Peterborough, ON.
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