Attention, politics, and democracy

February 20, 2025 - February 21, 2025
Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo

Georg Morgenstiernes hus, Blindernveien 31

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The ability to draw public attention to, or distract attention from, issues and voices is a form of political power, which begets more power. What we pay attention to and what we ignore has tremendous political consequences. How we as a democratic public pay attention to forms of injustice, and the people who experience the harms of these injustices, has consequences not only for what we talk and think about in private and public discourse, but also if and how we can take collective action to remedy these injustices (Mole 2024). Public attention impacts what laws are written, what policies are adopted, and who gains access to political office and other forms of political power. This raises questions such as: which issues should enter the public agenda? Which voices should be taken up in public debate, and what kinds of responses are recognised as valid contributions?

However, the power to direct attention is not distributed evenly within democratic states. Rather, in the age of widespread social media use, it increasingly lies in the hands not only of traditionally powerful institutions, corporations and media agencies (Siegel 2022) but in those of powerful individuals (Archer et al. 2019), regardless of their expertise and qualifications with regard to political and social issues. Not only do such individuals have the power to shape agendas in democratic states, but they have the power to silence and even undermine the agency and values of others (Smith 2020; Nguyen 2023). It has been argued that the maldistribution of political attention can lead to widespread epistemic injustice (Smith and Archer 2020) and even undermine political equality (Elliott 2017). How can we guard against such adverse effects, and what further social and political consequences follow from the distribution of attention and power over attention in society?

In our age of growing polarization, authoritarianism and populism, when social media and the attention economy increasingly undermine our ability to be pay attention well (Schuster and Lazar 2024), to be attuned to what really matters (Gardiner 2022), philosophical reflection on attention and its role in democratic politics is much needed. However, despite growing interest in the ethics of attention (Watzl 2022; Whiteley 2022), when it comes to politics, this topic has largely been unexplored. The goal of this event is to bring together scholars in political philosophy, epistemology, and related fields, to address key philosophical issues on the politics of attention.

If you have any questions, please contact Zsolt Kapelner (University of Oslo) at [email protected]


Archer, Alfred, Amanda Cawston, Benjamin Matheson and Machteld Geuskens (2019). Celebrity, Democracy, and Epistemic Power. Perspectives on Politics 18(1): 27-42.

Elliott, K. J. (2018). Making Attentive Citizens: The Ethics of Democratic Engagement, Political Equality, and Social Justice. Res Publica, 24, 73–91.

Gardiner, Georgi (2022). Attunement: on the cognitive virtues of attention. In M. Alfano, J. De Ridder, & C. Klein (Eds.), Social virtue epistemology (pp. 48–72). Routledge.

Mole, Christopher (2024). “Emancipatory Attention”, Philosophers' Imprint 24(1): 4, 1-19. doi:

Nguyen, Thi C. (2023). Hostile Epistemology. Social Philosophy Today 39: 9-32.

Schuster, Nick, and Seth Lazar. 2024. “Attention, Moral Skill, and Algorithmic Recommendation.” Philosophical Studies.

Siegel, Susanna (2022). Salience Principles for Democracy. In S. Archer (Ed.), Salience (pp. 235–266). Routledge.

Smith, Leonie (2020). Trump vs Twitter: who has the right to do what? Justice Everywhere. Available at :

Smith, Leonie and Alfred Archer (2020). Epistemic Injustice and the Attention Economy. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23(5): 777-795.

Watzl, Sebastian (2022). The Ethics of Attention: an argument and a framework. In S. Archer (Ed.), Salience (pp. 89–112). Routledge.

Whiteley, Ella K. (2023). “A Woman First and a Philosopher Second”: Relative Attentional Surplus on the Wrong Property.” Ethics, 133, 497–528.

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