Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance
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Many of us take for granted that what we perceive is a completely accurate representation of the world around us. Yet we have all had the experience of suddenly realizing that the keys or glasses that we had been looking for in vain were right in front of us the whole time. The capacity of our sense organs far exceeds our mental capabilities, and as such, looking at something does not guarantee that we will notice it. Our minds constantly prioritize and organize the information we take in, bringing certain things to the foreground, while letting others - that which we deem irrelevant - recede into the background. What ultimately determines what we perceive, and what we do not?
In this fascinating book, noted sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel argues that we perceive things not just as human beings but as social beings. Drawing on fascinating examples from science, the art world, optical illusions, and all walks of life, he shows that what we notice or ignore varies across cultures and throughout history, and illustrates how our environment and our social lives - everything from our lifestyles to our professions to our nationalities - play a role in determining how we actually use our senses to access the world. A subtle yet powerful examination of one of the central features of our conscious life, this book offers a way to think about all that might otherwise remain hidden in plain sight.
surroundings, by deliberately making a figure match (and thereby effectively blend into) its background we can actually decrease its perceptibility.48 Noticeability, in short, can thus be reduced by simply reversing the conditions necessary for a successful search. After all, for the very same reason that the target must look different from its surrounding background in order to be more conspicuous, it must resemble it in order to remain inconspicuous.49 And indeed, whereas spotting presupposes
ION OF AT T EN T ION | 53 specifically along certain directions.”23 It is specific conventions of what is noteworthy, for example, that make the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum such “must” attractions for visitors to Rome,24 and unmistakably social attentional norms25 that likewise compel us to tactfully ignore another’s stutter or open fly. Such ultimately social traditions, conventions, biases, habits, and norms underlie our basic notions of relevance. As members of particular attentional
in Social Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985 ), 115–16. 82. See Eviatar Zerubavel, Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 63. 83. Rubin, “Figure and Ground,” 202; Koffka, Principles of Gestalt Psychology, 191; Hochberg, Perception, 86; Casati and Varzi, Holes and Other Superficialities, 159; Pind, “Figure and Ground at 100,” 91. 84. See also Waugh, “Marked and Unmarked,” 301–02; Brekhus, “A Sociology of
War II (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1978), 92. 45. See also Gottsdanker, “The Relation between the Nature of the Search Situation and the Effectiveness of Alternative Strategies of Search,” 181; Tom Troscianko et al., “Camouflage and Visual Perception,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364 (2009): 456; Graeme D. Ruxton, “Non-Visual Crypsis: A Review of the Empirical Evidence of Camouflage to Senses Other than Vision,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal
Zerubavel, The Fine Line, 104–05. 20. See also Murray S. Davis, Smut: Erotic Reality/Obscene Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 27–30, 40–41, 133–39, 144–50, 156–59; Zerubavel, Social Mindscapes, 52. 21. See also Zerubavel, Social Mindscapes, 33–34, 46–47. 22. See also ibid., 33. 23. Frederic C. Bartlett, Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964 ), 255. See also 253–54. 24. See, for example, Ian