Project (2000-2005)

The Inattentive Individual—Contributions to the History of Attention

This research project concerned the empirical and theoretical constitution of the inattentive individual as a modern and contemporary scientific object, with emphasis on its anthropological, historical, and philosophical dimensions. In Western societies, two specific periods, the second half of the nineteenth century and the last third of the twentieth century, are outstanding for their interest in pathologies of attention in the area of the human sciences and medicine.

The nineteenth century offers the historical reasons that turn distraction into a condition that is subject to technological control and manipulation. For the individual affected by a wide-ranging network of stimuli and artifacts, inattentiveness and the indiscipline of distraction become synonymous with the risks involved in the lack of adaptation to the modern lifestyle, thus generating signs considered as physical or psychological pathologies.

In the first part of the project, which is related to the historical constitution of the inattentive individual in the nineteenth century, special attention is given to an analysis of the work of William James and Henri Bergson. The specific historical and scientific background to the problem of attention at the time is also analyzed.

The second period of investigation embraces the second half of the twentieth century. Since the 1970s the diagnosis of “attention deficit disorders” (ADD, now ADHD, or "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder") has become ever more common in modern everyday life, especially in the institutional contexts of education and health. This research also investigated the historical and scientific constitution of this diagnostic category as an empirical object of the analysis of attention in the neurosciences and medicine.

The emergence of attention as a central cultural preoccupation, as well the development of medical theories and practices about attention and its disorders is a very important subject that should continue to be studied at the intersection of the history of medicine, the history of sciences, and contemporary medical and psychological practices.