Tarde’s phantom takes a deadly line of flight – out now!

This just out in a special edition of Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory: Tarde’s phantom takes a deadly line of flight – from Obama Girl to the assassination of Bin Laden

In many ways this represents the 6th and final chapter to Virality, written just as the book went to press. It covers more of Tarde’s work and makes links to assemblage theory, ritornellos and revolutionary lines of flight. A bit late, but published at last!


This paper argues that a return to a theory of crowd contagion can potentially provide a valuable resource by which to think through the operations of the global. In short, the question of how certain events ‘go global’ can be usefully approached by acknowledging how they ‘go viral’. Yet, although popular discourses, particularly those dependent on the purported virality of internet memes, have been quick to grasp something of the logic of globalization, what spreads, and how it spreads, is all too often analogically reduced to the workings of an evolutionary code which problematically fixes contagious phenomena to stringent biological laws.

Global virality is alternatively grasped here by way of a convergence between Gabriel Tarde’s society of imitation and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concepts of assemblages and communicable ritornellos. This approach is intended to draw attention to the persistence of often small and mostly unpredictable perturbations and shock events that can, on rare occasions, become large-scale contagions. Referring to the recent example of Obama-love, the paper aims to provide a differently orientated ‘diagram’ of virality, which is neither exclusively biological nor social, but rather positioned at a junction point between the two. This is a diagram of global contagion increasingly put to work by those seeking to exploit the pass-on power of connected publics, but also, as Tarde argued, a diagram with extraordinary revolutionary potential.


About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Social Media (due 2020 with Polity Press). Tony is the organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK (see archive on this blog). As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Tony has been project lead on a number of funded projects that bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach. These activities have included large conferences, symposia and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres, co-organized with community groups and local authorities. Tony occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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