Concentrate! A Symposium on Attention and Distraction in Medicine and Culture

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Birkbeck, University of London
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Concentrate! A Symposium on Attention and Distraction in Medicine and Culture
30th October 2015
Birkbeck, University of London

"Though it is in the first place a faculty of individual minds, it is clear that attention has also become an acute collective problem of modern life—a cultural problem." -- Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (2015)

Writing in the New York Times in 2010, pediatrician Perri Klass observed that attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is frequently used as a 'marker and a metaphor for something larger in society — for the multitasking, the electronic distractions, the sense that the nature of concentration may be changing.' Yet, despite Klass' insistence that 'ADHD is not a metaphor', the everyday dynamics of attention and distraction are frequently cast in medical terms in contemporary discourse.

This one-day symposium, funded by a Wellcome Trust/Birkbeck ISSF grant, will frame the attention debate as a potent site of exchange between medicine and the humanities. Can we understand the cultural purchase of 'ADHD as metaphor' as something other than an obstacle to medical objectivity? Do warnings about a contemporary crisis of attention obscure the longer history of ideas about attention and distraction? The symposium seeks to draw together researchers in fields including literature, visual culture, history of psychology, sociology and philosophy, to foster interdisciplinary discussion of attention and distraction across all historical periods. Papers will not necessarily address ADHD directly, but may consider the notions of attention and distraction within a broad conceptual field.

Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:

• Attention disorders and the DSM
• Vision and attention
• Labour, productivity and attention management
• 'Tom Sawyer has ADHD' (Applebaum, 2010) and other diagnostic readings
• William James and the psychology of attention
• fMRI scans and 'neuro lit crit'
• Reading, writing and attention
• Capitalism and economic models of attention
• Distraction and technology
• Adderall, Ritalin, performance enhancement and cultural production
• Global implications of the medicalization of attention
• Hyperactivity and constructions of childhood
• ADHD and disability as metaphor
• Gender and ADHD

Send abstracts of 250 words for papers of 20 minutes to by 4th September 2015. Please also direct any questions to this address.