Salience in Society: The Nature and Ethics of Collective Attention

December 3, 2024 - December 4, 2024
Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna


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  • Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project no. ESP 410, "Engineering Salience"
  • European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, grant agreement no. 101003208, "GOODATTENTION"
  • Norwegian Research Council (NFR), project no. 315373, “Salient Solutions”


Langara College
University of Oslo
University of Vienna
Cambridge University
University of Vienna
University of Reading
University of Oslo


Langara College
University of Vienna
University of Oslo

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Attention is usually thought of as prioritization in the individual mind—for example, selecting an object to act on or centring something in one’s consciousness. But we also need to think about what groups or entire societies attend to, or neglect. For example, researchers have observed the “accelerating dynamics of collective attention”, revealed by content consumption patterns (Lorenz-Spreen et al. 2019). Topics now remain popular for a shorter time—our collective attention span seems to be shortening.

One aim of this workshop is to make better sense of what collective attention is and how it relates to individual attention. Is collective attention straightforwardly reducible to trends in individual attention or do we need a more complex story? Do collectives have distinctive attentional resources, such as shared time, space, and funding (Gardiner 2022)?

Furthermore, we are interested in the ethics of collective attention. What should be salient to a group, community, or society? Does this depend on what the collective’s goals happen to be or do we need a more objective standard? How does the ethics of collective attention relate to the ethics of individual attention? How might the patterns of attention in society be worrisome? For example, is it a problem that we now hop from one hot topic to another faster than we used to? Or is it problematic that we as a society pay attention to some things and not to others?

We are also interested in the engineering of collective attention. How can we control our collective attentional resources, so that important and relevant issues and perspectives become and remain salient in society? How to do this in a democratic, transparent, and fair way? How to address the worry that some voices are less salient in public deliberation and therefore less able to shape the agenda (Smith and Archer 2020)?

We thus aim to discuss the nature, ethics, and engineering of collective attention—all broadly construed.


Gardiner, G. 2022. “Attunement: On the Cognitive Virtues of Attention”. In M. Alfano, C. Klein, J. de Ridder (eds.), Social Virtue Epistemology, Routledge

Lorenz-Spreen, P. et al. 2019. “Accelerating dynamics of collective attention”. Nature Communications 10,

Smith, L. and A. Archer. 2020. “Epistemic Injustice and the Attention Economy”. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23,

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