University Notre-Dame de la Paix, Namur (3)

Specialisation 1 Specialisation 2 Specialisation 3

– will not be offered during the academic year 16/17 –

Attention economy and grey ecology

Information, and even knowledge, is like what used to be a natural resource: plentiful. We shifted our sense of boundlessness from natural resources (now recognized as in finite quantities, see the fundamental mental shift) to information and knowledge. Indeed, with the digital transition, there are less and less activities that do not produce a “digital shadow”. All the electronic devices we engage with (portable or not) leave a trace behind us which is recorded: where we are, what we read, what we buy, not to speak about the information we post about ourselves on social networks or blogs. Information is now like natural resources of a third kind, besides the non-renewable and the renewable, the exponential.

The joint effect of the recent predominance of the economic metaphor surrounding attention, and of the opaqueness of digital environments (which for their nature and for their novelty are stripped of the traditional signs of relevance and importance which generally help us navigate the material world) mean that we have lost our cognitive props and therefore the competition for attention has become primitive and brutal.

The brutality or the violence of the process could be related to the progressive disappearance of the social habitus (Pierre Bourdieu[1]) due to the extreme individualization and opacity of the attention channeling and profiling. The pervasive and obscure tracking of our digital life and its real time transformation into a myriad of fragmental and evolving  profiles  render both  the social identity and the social belonging less understandable and more complex.   This leads, according to the beautiful expression of Th. Eriksen (2001), to “the hegemony of fragments.”

For Alain Touraine[2], this rationalization of life has progressively destroyed the traditional correspondence between the social organization and the personal life leading to a massive de-socialization. “We no longer internalize social norms and roles…we no longer can understand or explain our individuality in social terms”.

All this leads, according to Paul Virilio[3] to a dramatic loss of orientation which has tremendous consequences for the alterity and for the democracy : “The specific negative aspect of these information superhighways is precisely this loss of orientation regarding alterity (the other), this disturbance in the relationship with the other and with the world. It is obvious that this loss of orientation, this non-situation, is going to usher a deep crisis which will affect society and hence, democracy”

The democratic challenge we are facing now is how to restore a democratic basis of orientation , put in other terms how to escape from a “latent civil war between markets and tribes, mass society and closed cultures, imperial liberalism and aggressive nationalism”. (Touraine, P. 55)

In the solid modernity or in the industrial one, the exploitation, the poverty and the class conflicts made emerge collective movements which rendered an industrial democracy possible. In the digital modernity, this collective movement (ex pluribus unum) is difficult to operate due to the opacity of the ‘digital assemblage’ and to the extreme individualization of this digitalization of life leading, as already pointed out, to a loss of clear figure of otherness.

For André Gorz[4], “Classical class analysis cannot provide an answer to the question of what social forces would be capable of achieving these transformations. There is no central front where a decisive victory can be obtained through class confrontation. To put it another way, the front  is everywhere, because the power of capital is exercised in diffuse  fashion in every area of life.

The grey ecology, considered as an invitation to politicize the attention concerns as the green ecology has made in the past with the natural resources, could open the door to new solidarity by setting a new front of collective concern and general interest. A way to make clearer this new front is to compare what happened to the ‘artisans’ at the end of the 19 century to the present situation.   In both case, there is a sort of expropriation process (of knowledge and gestures for the craft-men , of personal data and traces for the digital ones) in order to reduce the endemic human uncertainty and to capture the attention (the operational one in the industrial world and the intentional one in the consumption world).  Placed in this frame, attention can be conceptualized as a political and collective concern, as a new front for solidarity and resistance.

Why do we refer to ecology? For two main reasons. First of all, because as well developed by André Gorz, the underlying motivation of the ecology is the ““life-world” against “quantification and monetary evaluation, against the substitution of mercantile, dependent, client relations for the individual’s autonomy and capacity for self-determination.” But also, because the ecology as a social  and cultural movement is maybe the more relevant mean of ‘resistance’ to  ‘face’ the digital assemblage and its opaqueness.  First of all, since ecology does concern people’s attitudes and ways of living, it is for Stefano Rodota[5] a promising cultural and political path, allowing, by a shared reflexivity about the digital technologies and their pollution, to sort out of the sterile pro and con debates. But ecology is also a way to diffuse a cultural vigilance which can be promoted through schools and media.  Finally, it can also orientate the political and industrial authorities towards actions and research which promote ‘clean technologies’, which are sustainable  regarding our attention and our capacity of self-determination and accountable regarding the processes they perform to fabricate identities and differences.



Thesis proposal

The questions raised by this attention concept or  the grey ecology proposal are numerous. It is up to the student to formulate a research question either conceptual or empirical which could motivate her/him during the whole semester.



A scientific meeting is organised every 15 days. The objectives of this meeting are:

  • to present the working progress of each thesis
  • to discuss the scientific orientations taken (or to take)
  • to receive the advice of the academics
  • to set up the objectives of the work to be achieved for the following term

During each meeting, the student is invited to present the progress of his (her) thesis during 15 to 30 minutes. This presentation should be supported either by a text or by a slides collection.

Between these meetings, our offices are open for you for any other advice that you would wish.


The main library of the University is The Moretus Plantin Library . A specific library in Science, Technology and Society does exist in the CITA office .


The first stage of your thesis relates to the formulation of your problematic. To develop this one, three entrance points must be privileged.

The historical entry

This entry consists in considering the historical construction of the idea or the project which you wish to analyse . With through this entry, it is a question of identifying the actors, the objectives which carry them, rhetoric’s which they use… It is also a question of analysing “the trajectory” of the project or the idea and of pointing out the points of bifurcation, of change of meanings.

The epistemological and conceptual entry

This second point of entry consists in considering the concepts related to your thema (democracy, health , open source or community) and in opening them to a broad search of meaning in order to confront this conceptual analysis to the rhetoric analysis made in the first point. (i.e. when a policy does promote the e-democracy, to which sense of democracy does it refer to ?). In this epistemological part, it is also important to question the relations between technology and society and the concept of technology it self, in order to confront this epistemological approach to rhetoric’s one made in the first point.

The problematic entry

With historical and conceptual light back you will be able to formalise a problematic. This thesis problematic should consist in arguing answers to the following questions

  • What is the main question I would like address ?
  • What is my personal motivation to push this question ?
  • How can I relate this question to broader societal questions of sense/meaning ?
  • How do I look to the methodological way to treat this question ? (first tracks…)
  • What are the main bibliographical references collected to inform this question ? (first argued list of references).

The argued answer to those questions is the topic of your paper for the next term ( 5 pages + the argued bibliography)


(other) references

-       AAS (F.K.), “’The body does not lie’: Identity, risk and trust in technoculture”, in Crime Media Culture, vol. 2, Issue 2, pp. 143-158, 2006.

-       AUBERT, N. et DE GAULEJAC, V. (2007) Le coût de l’excellence, Le Seuil, Paris 2007.

-       BAUMAN (Z.), Le présent liquide. Peurs sociales et obsessions sécuritaires, Le Seuil, Paris, 2007.

-       BAUMAN   (Z.), « Franchir les frontières -ou avoir de nombreux chez-soi ?» , in Tumultes 1/2005 (n° 24), p. 79-89.

-       BECK (U.), La Société du risque. Sur la voie d’une autre modernité, Paris, Éditions Aubier, 2001 ; édition originale : Risikogesellschaft, Francfort, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1986

-       BOLTANSKI (L.) & THÉVENOT (L.), De la justification. Les économies de la grandeur, NRF, Collection Essais, Paris, 1991.

-       BOVILL (M. F) and LIVINGSTONE (S), “Bedroom culture and the privatization of media use.” In LIVINGSTONE (S)  and BOVILL (M. F). (Eds.), Children and their Changing Media Environment: A European Comparative Study. Marwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2001

-       BOYD D. (2007) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 119-142.

-       BROADBENT S. (2011) L’intimite’ au Travail Paris: FYP Editions

-       CASTEL (R ), Les Métamorphoses de la question sociale, une chronique du salariat, Fayard, Paris, 1995

-       DAVENPORT, T.H. and BECK J.C. (2001), The Attention economy. Ubiquity 2001, May.

-       DUBET (Fr) et MARTUCCELLI (D), Dans quelle société vivons-nous ?, Éditions du Seuil, 1998

-       GIDDENS (A), The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge, Polity, 1991

-       GOLDHABER M.H. (1997), “The Attention Economy on the Net”, In First Monday 2(4).

-       HARVEY, (D), Géographie de la domination, Les prairies ordinaires, 2008

-       KALLINIKOS (I), Governing Through Technology Information Artefacts and Social Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011

-       KESSOUS E, MELLET, K, ZOUINAR, M (2010), « L’économie de l’attention », In Sociologie du travail, n°3-2010

-       LATOUR (B.), Nous n’avons jamais été modernes. Essai d’anthropologie symétrique, Paris, La Découverte, 1991.

-       LATOUR (B.), «Esquisse d’un parlement des choses», in : Ecologie Politique, (10), pp. 97-115, 1994.

-       LYOTARD (JF), La condition postmoderne, 2ditions de Minuit, 1979

-       MADIANOU (M) MILLER (D) (forthcoming) New Media and Migration.

Polymedi and transnational relationshps. London : Routledge

-       NIELSEN Cross Platform Report: Americans Watching More TV, Mobile and Web Video Report June 15 2011

-       OFCOM (2010) Communications Market report  Published 19th August 2010 London

-       ROS,( A) DE LA FUENTA VILARS (S)  Through the Webcam: Bolivian immigrant women in Barcelona communicating with their families back home. Conference proceedings Digital diasporas  Cambridge 2011

-       SENNETT (R), The Culture of the New Capitalism, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005

-       SENNETT, R. (1977°, Les tyrannies de l’intimité, Le Seuil, Paris 1977.

-       SENNETT (R), The use of disorder, New York: Kopf, 1970

-       VIRILIO, P ( BURK , D.  -Translator) (2009). Grey Ecology. Atropos Press. 2009


[1] Pierre Bourdieu, La distinction, Les éditions de Minuit, Le sens commun, Paris, 1979

[2] Alain Touraine, « The Crisis of the Progress », In European Review, Volume1 / Issue02 / April 1993

[3] Paul Virilio, «La vitesse de l’information », In le Monde Diplomatique, août 1995

[4] André Gorz, « Political ecology : expertocracy versus self-limitation « , In New Left Review, I/202, November and December 1993.

[5] Stefano Rodota, La démocratie électronique, Editions Apogée, Paris, 1999