Hidden in Plain Sight: The Social Structure of Irrelevance

ISBN : 9780199366613

Eviatar Zerubavel
216 Pages
141 x 209 mm
Pub date
May 2015
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Many of us have had the experience of suddenly realizing that the keys or glasses which we have been looking for in vain were right in front of us the whole time. Looking for something does not guarantee that you will notice it, as the capacity of our sense organs far exceeds our mental capabilities. Whether we know it or not, we organize our perception systematically and that requires focusing our attention: some things move to the foreground, other elements recede into the background. While neuroscience and psychology can tell us a lot about our cognitive hardware, the cognitive software we use often goes unnoticed. In this book, Eviatar Zerubavel argues that we notice and ignore things not just as human beings, but as social beings. What we attend and do not attend to is a function of the fact that we are lawyers rather than detectives, Koreans rather than Americans, theologians rather than economists, vegans rather than omnivores. It is our environment and our social lives that often determine how we actually use our vision and hearing to access the world. Drawing on fascinating examples from the art world, optical illusions, and all walks of life, Zerubavel investigates how what we notice or ignore varies across cultures and throughout history. 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.


1. Noticing and Ignoring
2. Figure and Background
3. Searching and Hiding
4. The Social Organization of Attention
5. Conclusion

About the author: 

Eviatar Zerubavel is Board of Governors Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and author of Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community, and The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life.

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