MAST: The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory

Special Issue: Blurring Digital Media Culture

Edited by Tony D. Sampson and Jernej Markelj

Vol. 4 | No. 1 | April 2023

New publication June 2022

New eBook to be published in June 2022

Selected Publications (2008 – date)


A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media (Polity, summer 2020)

Read the introduction: a-sleepwalkers-guide-to-social-media_introduction-2

See review in Information, Communication & Society

See related news story in The Washington Post: Your Instagram Exposes You to Coronavirus Contagion

The Cleaners by Mikey Georgeson. One of many ‘diagrams’ Georgeson produced for the book.


‘A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media is exactly what we need in these post-truth times. Tony Sampson brilliantly and succinctly takes us beyond the impasse between hyperreality and the illusory certainties of objective truth, introducing us to the collective nonconscious and its political, social and cultural implications. Read it now!’ Patricia Clough, CUNY

‘This is an essential book of dystopian media theory and an admonition of the high stakes of connectivity now and in the future.’ Tero Karppi, University of Toronto

‘This is a book for the age of sleep disorders and political disorders; it is a book about the reshuffling of affects and data-driven cognition. Sampson brilliantly maps the production of the dark refrains of contemporary culture from UX design to the broader context of experience capitalism and social media. A foreboding book and a joyous read.’ Jussi Parikka, University of Southampton (UK) and FAMU (Prague)

Not surprisingly, [Sampson] makes one of the most sophisticated and original arguments about affective life and social media in recent (and distant) memory. I’ve read it and cannot recommend this book enough! I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t sleep. BRILLIANT AND UNSETTLING! Greg Seigworth, Millersville University

In light of recent US events that saw a domestic terrorist attack by the far right on the day of President Bidens electoral vote confirmation at Capitol Hill, Tony Sampsons A Sleepwalkers Guide to Social Media is right on time. The hatred that followed widespread false claims… can be analyzed through the topics and concepts proposed by the book around experience, feelings and virality of fake news online. Even when they make a dense reading, the author takes the readers by the hand and walks them through the book to ensure that the main concepts are properly delineated… This book offers an interdisciplinary insight that fills the knowledge gap and connects some of the latest events concerning online (and offline) environments and usersbehavior through diverse lenses. [The book] is an essential text not only for those who focus on media studies, but also for those who are interested in sociology, STS studies, and anthropology, disciplines that study similar issues concerning the internet, users, and human behavior in social settings. Giulia Villanucci, review in Information, Communication & Society.

The Blurbs for A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media

Positing online users as ‘sleepwalkers’, Tony Sampson offers an original and compelling approach for understanding how social media platforms produce subjectivities.

Drawing on a wide range of theorists, including A.N. Whitehead and Gabriel Tarde, he provides tools to track his sleepwalker through the ‘dark refrain of social media’: a refrain that spreads through viral platform architectures with a staccato-like repetition of shock events, rumours, conspiracy, misinformation, big lies, search engine weaponization, data voids, populist strongmen, immune system failures, and far-right hate speech. Sampson’s sleepwalker is not a pre-programmed smartphone junkie, but a conceptual personae intended to dodge capture by data doubles and lookalikes. Sleepwalkers are neither asleep nor wide awake; they are a liminal experimentation in collective mimicry and self-other relationality. Their purpose is to stir up a new kind of community that emerges from the potentialities of revolutionary contagion.

At a time in which social media is influencing more people than ever, A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media is an important reference for students and scholars of media theory, digital media and social media.

Blurb 2

Social media has taken a dark turn, encompassing both economic and political expropriation of the user experience. Users not only give away ownership of their community relations to big platforms, but the potential for positive change through revolutionary contagion is under threat. What was once the domain of pro-democratic movements has been annexed by the far right.

Tony Sampson focuses on the role social media plays in this somewhat abrupt capitulation to the sinister refrain of post-truth, fake news and hate speech. Positing online users as ‘sleepwalkers’, he argues that by understanding their collective behaviour we can identify the different lures that are used to capture them and which, in turn, produce their subjectivities.

Drawing on a wide range of theories, this book offers compelling ways to understand social media at a time when it is more important than ever. It is a key reference for students and scholars of media theory, digital media and social media.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Feeling Facts and Fakes
Chapter Two: On the Viral Spectra of Somnambulism
Coda: Christchurch; El Paso
Chapter Three: The Virality of Experience Capitalism
Segue: A Dark [Viral] Refrain
Chapter Four: Immunity, Community and Contagion
Chapter Five: Deeper Entanglements
Outro: Disrupting the Dark Refrain


Short Video Guide to The Sleepwalker

The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, Dec, 2016)

Read sampson_assemblage_brain_chapter on Neurolabor


A radical new theory of the brain bridging science, philosophy, art, and politics

Once upon a time, neuroscience was born. From it there emerged a dazzling array of neurotechnologies that, according to popular belief, have finally begun to unlock the secrets of the brain. But as the reach of the brain sciences now extends into all corners of cultural, social, political, and economic life, a yet newer world has taken shape: “neuroculture,” as argued in this book, which goes further than ever before to tackle the profound ethical implications we face in consequence.

The Assemblage Brain unveils a major new concept of sense making, one that challenges conventional scientific and philosophical understandings of the brain. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, Tony D. Sampson calls for a radical critical theory that operates in the interferences between philosophy, science, art, and politics. From this novel perspective the book is structured around two main questions: “What can be done to a brain?” and “What can a brain do?” Sampson examines the rise of neuroeconomics in informing significant developments in computer work, marketing, and the neuropharmaceutical control of inattentiveness in the classroom. Moving beyond the neurocapitalist framework, he then reestablishes a place for proto-subjectivity in which biological and cultural distinctions are reintegrated in an understanding of the brain as an assemblage.

The Assemblage Brain unravels the conventional image of thought that underpins many scientific and philosophical accounts of how sense is produced, providing an alternative way of thinking about our current time in which capitalism and the neurosciences are endeavoring to colonize the brain.


“Sampson’s vision of media culture is dark, original and innovative. In a Tardean manner, Sampson develops his own voice through the ability to adapt texts and ideas that have not been brought together and produce something original.
Sampson’s book is an assemblage, which expands the way brain can be thought and gives the name of “neuroculture” to our everyday dystopia, which is not the future, but has already occupied “all corners of cultural, social, political and economic life” (ix).” Tero Karppi in AI & Society (2018).

“Tap my head and mike my brain’; Tony Sampson’s new book might silently echo Pynchon’s famous lines, but this is also an original, inspiring, and theoretically savvy take on the culture of the affective brain, from sciences to business, cybernetics to political power. Warmly recommended.” Jussi Parikka, author of Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology


“The Assemblage Brain provides a much-needed critique of the black-box, computational brain that has been a staple in philosophy, science, and the arts and connects the dots between recent innovations in science, dystopian literature, and theoretical developments in contemporary philosophy.” David Gunkel, author of The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots and Ethics

Collaboration between New York based artist Kay Gordon “Neurons / Deterritorializing” + Tony Sampson “The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture”

Tony D Sampson
Presenting neurocultures talk at Transmediale in Berlin 2019

Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Read review in TCS Journal.



Impressive and ambitious, Virality offers a new theory of the viral as a sociological event. Brian Rotman, Ohio State University.

Tarde and Deleuze come beautifully together in this outstanding book, the first to really put forward a serious alternative to neo-Darwinian theories of virality, contagion, and memetics. A thrilling read that bears enduring consequences for our understanding of network cultures. Unmissable. Tiziana Terranova, author of Network Culture.

“Sampson is a great writer, and the language itself is affective: ‘bullish’, ‘cynical’ are words that become not just descriptive but gather a force of expression in Sampson’s way of mapping techniques of the noncognitive in marketing and politics.”  Jussi Parikka’s review in Theory, Culture and Society

Edited Collections

Tony D Sampson, Darren Ellis and Stephen Maddison (eds.) Affect and Social Media. Rowman and Littlefield International. In production due July 2018.



“Social media play an outsized role in our emotional lives. They continually modulate our moods and feelings. They transmit vague sensations that run through us like an infection or contagion. In order to take the measure of social media today, the essays in this volume combine empirical research with far-ranging speculation, offering us analyses that are at once surprising and disturbingly familiar.” Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University

“This is a thought-provoking, occasionally scary, and thoroughly fascinating exploration into the complex networked intensities within which we operate. Spanning from pedagogy to pornography, and beyond, it comes with an international focus and a profoundly interdisciplinary analytical range that make it recommended reading for all interested in understanding the key role that social media plays is contemporary culture.” ​Susanna Paasonen, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Turku

“Sampson, Ellis and Maddison’s collection is crucial to any understanding of contemporary digital culture. Bringing together many directions of affect theory, theorising across a radical plurality of sites, they skilfully hold on to a vital coherence through critical affect studies inspired by feminist and queer theory and by core contributors in the field (e.g. Clough, Gregg, Seigworth, Paasonen).” Kate O’Riordan, Professor of Digital Culture at the University of Sussex.

Tony D Sampson and Jussi Parikka (eds.) The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009.


Special e-book

Rizosfera: Digital Neuroland. An Interview with Tony D. Sampson (Rhizonomics – RZN002, 2017)

Click on the book to get a free copy! An Italian version is now here.

Italian cover

The Blurb

“Tony D. Sampson is reader in digital media culture and communication based in East London, and deals with philosophy, digital culture and new media. His work focuses on an unconventional intersection where political analysis meets the theoretical aspects of digital media and social behaviour, shaping the world of our contemporary era. Writing on substantial components like viruses, virality in communication, contagion and behavioural imitation, the brain and neuroculture in this world built on an accelerated bond of technology and ideology of value, Sampson catches, with a forward looking attitude, some “substantial issues” of the clash between control and technology, society and individual or collective freedom, shaping him not only as a brilliant new media theorist but as an essential political thinker as well. To scan his new book ‘The Assemblage Brain’ (Minnesota Press, 2017) is therefore urgent to understand the important challenge we will face in a very near future.”

Selected Peer Reviewed Journal Articles and Reviews (including work in progress and accepted work)

Sampson, T.D., and Markelj, J. “The Perilous Potential of the Blur: Digital Cultures Within Zones of Indistinction”, The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory, Special Issue: Blurring Digital Media Culture, Edited by Tony D. Sampson and Jernej Markelj, Vol. 4 | No. 1 | April 2023.

Sampson, T.D. Reveiw of ‘Robert J. Shiller, Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events’, American Literary History (2022);, ajac053,

See Shiller_Review

Sampson, T. D., and Parikka, J. ‘The Operational Loops of a Pandemic’. Cultural Politics (April 2021).

Interview with Tony. D Sampson: ‘Contagions Beyond Our Limited Bandwidth by Jernej Markelj’. The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory Volume 1, Issue 2, 2020 Media, Materiality, and Emergency (Nov 2020).

Fiction Machines.’ Co-editor (with Charlie Tweed and Andy Weir) of a special issue of International Journal of Creative Media Research entitled Fiction Machines. (2020).

‘Spatiotemporal Zones of Neosomnambulism’ Special issue of Media Theory Journal entitled Mediating Presents. Beckie Coleman and Susanna Paasonen (eds.). (due 2020).

‘Affect, Cognition and the Neurosciences.’ Special issue of Athenea Digital Journal (English and Spanish), entitled Mapping Affect Studies. Aline Lara (ed). (2020).

‘How to Live a Sensible Life in the Wake of Covid-19’. Sampson, T. D., and Parikka, J. Fall Semester. (Sept 2020). See Fall Semester website.

‘The New Logics of Viral Media’. Sampson, T. D., and Parikka, J. boundary2. (2020). See Duke University’s Boundary2 website

‘Les Logiques Nouvelles des Médias Viraux’. Sampson, T. D and Parikka, J. AOC: Analyse Opinion Critique. (2020). See Analysis, Opinion, Critique (AOC) Journal.

A Sleepwalker’s Guide to the Collective Nonconscious.’  Special issue of Parallax Journal, entitled Networked Liminality. Grant Bollmer and Yigit Soncul (eds). (2020).

A review of Sergio Tonkonoff’s book From Tarde to Deleuze and Foucault: The Infinitesimal Revolution in International Sociology Reviews, a journal of the International Sociological Association (Sept, 2019).

Unthought Meets the Assemblage Brain: A Dialogue between N. Katherine Hayles and Tony D. Sampson.” Invited article for US open access Capacious Journal (June, 2018).

“Transitions in HCI: From the Information Society to Experience Capitalism” invited article for special issue of AI and Society (2018).

“Cosmic Ecologies of Imitation: From the Horror of Digital Autotoxicus to the Auto-Toxicity of the Socialinvited article for special issue of Parallax, Volume 23, 2017 – Issue 1: Autoimmunities, Guest Edited by Stefan Herbrechter and Michelle Jamieson.

Various Joyful Encounters with the Dystopias of Affective Capitalism” invited article for special issue of Ephemera, 16/4, 2016.

Hungarian Translation of “Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe” “Fertőzéselmélet a mikrobákon túl”, Apertúra, Autumn(1), 2016.

“An Interview with Tony D Sampson” NANO special issue on Originality in Digital Culture, Dec 2016.

“Getting the [Care] Deficit Down” A review of Michael Schillmeier’s Eventful Bodies: The Cosmopolitics of Illness in New Formations Issue 84-5, 2015.

Commentary for a special section on ‘contagion’, Journal of Public Health, Oxford University Press, August 21, 2013.

Review of Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation by Lisa Blackman in New Formations Issue 79-79 Touches, Traces, and Times, 2013.

“Tarde’s Phantom Takes a Deadly Line of Flight,” Special Issue, Operations of the Global – Explorations of Dis/Connectivity, Distinktion Journal, 2012.

“Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe,” CTheory Journal of Theory, Technology and Culture, Special Issue: In the Name of Security, Jan, 2011.

With Jairo Lugo-Ocando, “E-Informality in Venezuela: The Other Path to Technology,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 102-118; 2008

Selected Book Chapters

In production: Machine-Fictioning Neuroculture: Methods for Critiquing Neuroscientific Interventions in Art, Philosophy and Everyday Life, in Neidich, W. (ed.), Activist Neuroaesthetics. (due 2021).

In production: With Jussi Parikka. ‘The New Logics of Viral Media’. In After Lockdown – Opening Up: Psychosocial Transformations in the Wake of Covid-19. Ellis, D., & Voela, A. (eds.) Studies in the Psychosocial Series. Palgrave Macmillan. (due 2021).

In production: ‘Critical Approaches to Animated Entanglements.’ To be published in Animation, the Body and Affect: Human Perception and Digital Information Technologies. Tomoko Tamari (ed). (due 2021).

“Collapsing Boundaries: Ambivalence and Interference” in Mateusz Borowski, Mateusz Chaberski and Małgorzata Sugiera (eds.) Emerging Affinities: Possible Futures of Performative Arts, Transcript Verlag, Berlin and London (2019). Polish and English.

“Cosmic Topologies of Imitation: From the Horror of Digital Autotoxicus to the Auto-Toxicity of the Social,” in Autoimmunities. Editors: by Stefan Herbrechter and Michelle Jamieson, Routledge, 2018.

“Tap My Head and Mike My Brain: Neuromarketing and Addiction,” in Are We All Addicts Now? Editors: Vanessa Bartlett and Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Liverpool University Press, 2017.

“The Self-Other Topology: The Politics of [User] Experience in the Age of Social Media” in Boundaries of Self & Reality Online: Implications of Digitally Constructed Realities. Editor: Jayne Gackenbach, Elsevier, 2016.

“Interview with Tony D. Sampson” in The Birth of Digital Populism. Crowd, Power and Postdemocracy in the 21st Century, Obsolete Capitalism Free Press, 2015.

“Contagion Theory: Beyond the Microbe,” Critical Digital Studies: A Reader, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (eds.), University of Toronto Press, 2013.

With Jussi Parikka, “Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection” The Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics, Hartley, Burgess and Bruns (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

“Error-Contagion: Network Hypnosis and Collective Culpability,” Error: Glitch, Noise, and Jam in New Media Cultures, Mark Nunes (ed.), New York, London: Continuum, 2010.

With Lugo and Lossanda, “A Prospective Analysis of the Video Games Industry in Latin America: From Banana Republic to Donkey Kong,” FILE: Electronic Language International Festival 10 Years Commemorative Book, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2010.

With Jussi Parikka, “On Anomalous Objects: An Introduction,” in The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, Parikka and Sampson (eds.), Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 1-18, 2009.

“How Networks Become Viral: Three Questions Concerning Universal Contagion,” in The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, Parikka and Sampson (eds.), Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 39-59; 2009.

Selected Online Publications

Brave New World: the pill-popping, social media obsessed dystopia we live in.” in The Conversation, February 23, 2017, 2017. Translated in German here:

Neuropaesaggi digitali. Intervista a Tony D. Sampson – a cura di Rizosfera.”

Barbican’s Digital Exhibition is Nothing More Than Gimmickry”, Review of Barbican Digital Revolution Exhibit in The Conversation, July 2014.

“Crowds, Power and Post-Democracy in the 21st Century” an interview with Tony D. Sampson by Rizomatika, Obsolete Capitalism and Variazioni Foucaultiane blogs, 2013.

Tarde as Media Theorist“: an interview with Tony D. Sampson, by Jussi Parikka on the Theory, Culture and Society blog, 2012.

Imitative Inventions”, an online review of Olga Goriunova’s Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet, Mute Magazine, 2012.

Turning Software Inside Out: A Review of FLOSS +Art and Software Studies”, Mute Magazine, 2009. Translated in Spanish:  “Software de Arriba a Abajo”, Tin Tank: Conocimieto Inspiracion e Ideas ahora, 2010.


Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, University of Minnesota Press, 2012

“Impressive and ambitious, Virality offers a new theory of the viral as a sociological event.” Brian Rotman, Ohio State University

“Tarde and Deleuze come beautifully together in this outstanding book, the first to really put forward a serious alternative to neo-Darwinian theories of virality, contagion, and memetics. A thrilling read that bears enduring consequences for our understanding of network cultures. Unmissable.” Tiziana Terranova, author of Network Culture

“Sampson is a great writer, and the language itself is affective: ‘bullish’, ‘cynical’ are words that become not just descriptive but gather a force of expression in Sampson’s way of mapping techniques of the noncognitive in marketing and politics.”  Jussi Parikka’s review in Theory, Culture and Society

“[Virality] is an important interdisciplinary contribution to the understanding of network cultures not only because it puts into historical context how crowd behavior has been studied for the last hundred years, but also because it helps anyone interested in attaining a more in-depth understanding of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy; thus, Virality is a real contribution to assemblage theory and its relation to media archeology in terms of network analysis. For this reason, it is a book that anyone interested in understanding how social media functions at the beginning of the 21st century should seriously consider reading.” Huffington Post book review by Eduardo Navas

Virality participates in a growing scholarly trend within the humanities in which researchers criticize and propose alternatives to the reification of a methodological division between biology and culture. While dense, Virality treats a wide range of relevant scholarship as it presents a refreshing approach to contagion theory in what has been a stagnant area of scholarship… the book is both innovative and timely, which means that the work necessary to understand Sampson’s connections will be well rewarded.” Claire Barber in Reviews in Cultural Theory.


For a summary of the book’s main themes see the below video produced by students on the MA New Media and Digital Culture programme at the University of Amsterdam in 2012. Illustrations by Geoff J. Kim @geoffjkim. Published on YouTube Oct 30, 2012 by Bozhan Chipev @bochipev.

Interview with the author on the TCS blog ‘Tarde as Media Theorist’: an interview with Tony D. Sampson, by Jussi Parikka


Jussi Parikka and Tony D Sampson (authors and coeditors) The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2009.

For those of us increasingly reliant on email networks in our everyday social interactions, spam can be a pain; it can annoy; it can deceive; it can overload. Yet spam can also entertain and perplex us. This book is an aberration into the dark side of network culture. Instead of regurgitating stories of technological progress or over celebrating creative social media on the Internet, it filters contemporary culture through its anomalies. The book features theorists writing on spam, porn, censorship, and viruses. The evil side of media theory is exposed to theoretical interventions and innovative case studies that touch base with new media and Internet studies and the sociology of new network culture, as well as post-representational cultural theory.

Reviews and press:

“Tony Sampson tackles the problem of modeling contagions by folding system instability over stability therein bringing inside the hitherto externality of the parasite model. He rehabilitates the figure of the juvenile virus writer for technocultural theory and revalorizes a “constitutive anomaly” that makes instability a key factor of stability in a network not given in advance, that is, not frozen, but sensitive to growth, uncertainty, and vulnerability. This idea of the network “in passage” is rich and foregrounds the robustness of the fragile”
Gary Genosko’s review of The Spam Book Leonardo Reviews

“Parikka and Sampson present the latest insights from the humanities into software studies. This compendium is for all you digital Freudians. Electronic deviances no longer originate in Californian cyber fringes but are hardwired into planetary normalcy. Bugs breed inside our mobile devices. The virtual mainstream turns out to be rotten. The Spam book is for anyone interested in new media theory.”
Geert Lovink, Dutch/Australian media theorist

“What if all those things we most hate about the Internet, the spam, the viruses, the phishing sites, the flame wars, the latency and lag and interruptions of service,and the glitches that crash our computerswhat if all these are not bugs, but features? What if they constitute, in fact, the way the system functions? The SpamBook explores this disquieting possibility.”
Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University

“The first section, on ‘Contagion’, is strong on the question of the internal informational architecture of the web itself, analysing the particular topologies of networked spaces. It took me a while to grasp the logic behind this section, since the heading ‘Contagion’ seemed a secondary concern for a chapter that ultimately focussed on the production of space. In fact, this counter-intuitive framing of the subject is particularly useful – the paradigm here is one of process ontology, whereby a network is not identified with its physical infrastructure, but shown to be continually produced and transformed through the making and breaking of links, in dynamic processes of interaction. The network, in this sense, does not carry contagion, but is constituted by the flows of contagion, ‘a heterogeneous compositional force endemic to the network’. This theme opens up questions as to which biological concepts are most helpful in mapping the internet – the polemical thrust of the book is to reject images of functional organic completeness in favour of viral proliferation and productive malfunction.” Ben Pritchett’s Review for Mute.


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