Karen A. Cerulo
Current literature in cultural sociology suggests a growing interest in the study of sensation and attention. But note that several classic theoretical works form the basis for these contemporary investigations. For example, notions of collective attention and group focus are rooted in the works of Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Charles Horton Cooley, and Alfred Schutz. These theorists were among the first to suggest that social structure and cultural circumstance can systematically pattern the objects and events, the beliefs and morals, that enter a collective’s awareness. Durkheim’s statements on the topic can be found in his writings on collective conscience. Interested readers should consult The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (New York: The Free Press,  1995), and Suicide (New York: The Free Press,  1966). Marx’s concept of class consciousness is also relevant here. The Marx-Engels Reader provides several essays in which class consciousness is discussed (R.C. Tucker, ed., 2d ed., New York: W.W. Norton, 1978). Cooley elaborates on the phenomenon of collective attention in Social Organization: A Larger Study of the Mind (NewYork: Schocken,  1962). Finally, Schutz describes the ways in which culturally embedded signals can synchronize the attentions of social members, thus creating a meeting of the minds. See his essay “Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationship” (Social Research 18:76-97, 1951).
In a similar regard, the classics tell us much about the ways in which a collective body can shape individual attention. This point is perhaps most prominent in works addressing topics such as specialization and rationalization. For example, Max Weber’s work on bureaucracy demonstrates the ways in which an individual’s location in a formal organization can direct that which the individual perceives and that which she or he ignores. Similarly, Weber contends that a formal organization’s definition of goals functions to define social relevance and irrelevance for the