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A Practice-theoretical Account

SNSF Project on the Practice of Organizational Attention

Institute of Marketing and Communication Management


Submission deadline: 31/05/2022

Jeanne Mengis and her colleague from Warwick Business School, Davide Nicolini, received a generous research grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation for a study on Organizational Attention. Congratulations to both!

COVID-19 has put it in our face that organizational attention remains a challenging endeavour as organizations not only have to pay attention initially, but to sustain and reorient it in their everyday work and lives with the pandemic showing always new faces and bringing about unanticipated issues.

In this project, we aim to shed light on the mundane, concrete practices that make up organizational attention. Rather than conceiving of attention as the sum of the cognitive efforts and interpretation schema of top managers, we address how attention is emergent from the connections of multiple, locally situated and materially mediated practices on the ground. Our curiosities circle around questions such as these:

  • How does attention emerge situationally in organizations? How do local conditions prefigure and shape the things we pay attention to in our doings and sayings and where do these conditions come from?
  • How is attention socially and materially distributed in organizations? How does it build on the artefacts and tools we use in our daily work, not least the informational infrastructure whose form allows shedding attention only on some things, but not on others? How does the spatial siting of our practices and the directionality of our bodies matter for our pragmatic field of attention?
  • How does “organizational attention” emerge as a result of the connection between multiple, localized and situated practices of attention? How do multiple sites of attentional practice become interconnected and how do these connections come to matter?

We address these questions in three rather diverse empirical contexts - border control work, air traffic control, and venture capitalist investments. Our multi-site research design will build on ethnographic methods, such as observations – also supported by photo- and video-based approaches – and qualitative interviews. We expect the study to not only advance our theoretical understanding of organizational attention by advancing our understanding of how everyday work, sociomaterial arrangements and the interconnections of multiple, locally situated attention practices matter for organizational attention. We also aim to add to how we manage organizational attention in business practice, from managing a pandemic, to managing risks, to seizing opportunities.

You get a rough idea of the project’s main intuition if you look at the opera hall in the picture above and think about the many social and material actors involved in producing the unique attention created towards the artistic performance, such as the proscenium, the curtains, the stage, the velvet cladding, the seats, the lighting, the people silently watching, the performers' orientation in space, the projection of their voice. Attention truly is a sociomaterial affair.