Category: Assemblage Brain

Contagions, Sleepwalkers, and the Nonconscious of Social Media: An Interview with Tony D. Sampson

I have an interview published in The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory (Volume 1, Issue 2, 2020 Media, Materiality, and Emergency).

Contagions, Sleepwalkers, and the Nonconscious of Social Media: An Interview with Tony D. Sampson

It’s an interview with the very talented Jernej Markelj based at Cardiff University. Our discussion addresses viruses and modes of contagion but also the ‘dark refrain’ of far-right populism and social media. Much more than the current state of emergency due to COVID-19, the conversation addresses the political and relational conditions of contagion in general.

Parallax: Networked Liminality

A new special issue of Parallax is out. It includes a piece I wrote following a guest talk at the Winchester School of Art on The Assemblage Brain and preparing material for A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media. It’s called “A sleepwalker’s guide to the collective nonconscious.” The issue is edited by Yigit Soncul and Grant Bollmer and promises to be very special indeed. There are articles by Sean Cubitt, Ingrid Hoelzl, Tero Karppi, James J. Hodge, Katherine Guinness and more…

Volume 26, 2020 – Issue 1: Networked Liminality, Guest Edited by Yigit Soncul and Grant Bollmer

A User’s Guide to the Sleepwalker video

And a video to go with the new book . Thanks to Mikey Vessel Georgeson for aesthetic diagrams and images of his Somnambulist performance at the Affect Summer School last summer. A really big thanks to John Leo Dutton who allowed the use of his music – which is incidentally part of a dystopian media project we have yet to finish called Fordlandia.


Affect & Social Media#4.5 cfp DEADLINE EXTENDED – June 12th 2020

While we wait for Covid-19 to do its dreadful thing

Before we can meet safely at the University of East London for A&SM#5 (

Affect & Social Media#4.5 and Sensorium Art Show present: Media Virality and the Lockdown Aesthetic

Call for papers, performances and artworks

DEADLINE EXTENDED TO June 12th 2020 250-word proposal emailed to

A full programme of links to pre-recorded videos, short position papers, artworks, performances, presentations, book launches, and online discussion groups, and so on… will be released throughout a two-day period in mid-July (tbc).


Before Covid-19, the concept of universal virality cut a hitherto marginal figure in media theory. References to contagion, immunology, epidemiology and viral networks were of ancillary concern. After all, media and communication studies were supposed to be about establishing connection; not the opposite of it!  Viral metaphors referred to trivial contagions of fads, crazes and marketing hype. Some media theorists optimistically translated these metaphors into the media viruses and spreadable media of participatory culture. However, now, all of a sudden, unpredictably, and rather shockingly, viral media stands at the centre of contemporary issues both materially, economically, and socially. In the wake of global uncertainty and anxiety caused by the uncontainable spread of Covid-19, there has been an abrupt move to the viral – from the margin to the middle.

Covid-19 draws urgent attention to the workings of a viral logics that criss-crosses from biological to cultural, technological and economic contexts. Virality is a techno-social condition of proximity and distance, accident and security, communication and communication breakdown. Indeed, it is in the current context that our understanding of the movement of people and messages is framed by the logics of quarantine and confinement, security and prevention.

Virality automates affective reactions and imitative behaviours that relate to different visceral registers of experience compared to those assumed to inform the logic of the market. Which is to say, the mainstream cognitive models that are supposed to support the failing economic model of rational choice (if indeed anyone really ever believed in Homo Economicus) are replaced by seemingly irrational and uncontrollable financial contagion.

Recent outbreaks of panic buying of toilet roll and paracetamol, some of which have been sparked by the global spread of Instagram images of empty supermarket shelves, are spreading alongside scenes of isolated Italians, impulsively bursting into songs of solidarity and support from their balconies. All of these are bizarre contagions because, it would seem, they are interwoven with contagions of psychological fear, anxiety, conspiracy and further financial turmoil; all triggered by the indeterminate spread of Covid-19. Virality is resolutely non-metaphorical.

To think these contagions through is, for a number of reasons, a difficult task. We are after all dealing with an ecology of technological, biological, and affective realities moving about in strange feedback loops. Future predictions are taking place against a backdrop of contested epidemiological models, reliant on, for example, the uncertain thresholds of herd immunity or total social lockdown. Certainly, following a sustained period of comparatively stable risk assessment, mostly based on known knowns and known unknowns, we have just entered a vital, possibly game changing phase in which unknown unknowns will prescribe the near future.

We welcome suggestions inspired by, but certainly not limited to this list of topics

  • Media viruses
  • Information-viruses
  • Conspiracy contagions
  • Revolutionary contagions
  • Meme(tics)
  • Viral modelling
  • Accidental contagion
  • Panic buying
  • Media health and media contagion
  • Care contagions
  • Spreadable media
  • Social theory and contagion
  • Financial contagion
  • Ethics of virality
  • Lockdown aesthetics
  • Biopolitical containments
  • Quarantine
  • Viral patterning of habit and behaviour
  • Social distancing
  • Herd immunity
  • Sleepwalkers
  • Contagion theory
  • Viral flows/events
  • Racist contagions –g. maskaphobia
  • After lockdown
  • Novel spatiotemporal viral realities, yet to come
  • New political assemblages

Deadline for short (250 word) proposals June 12th

Emailed to

Further information about A&SM#4.5 will appear here on the Virality Blog (

Please note that this event is free for all. The organisers cannot pay for any content or content production.

The blurb for A&SM#4.5 is based on Les logiques nouvelles des médias viraux Par Tony D. Sampson et Jussi Parikka. Published in AOC Journal 09.04.20

English version here:

See also this video primer on Virality

A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Social Media

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A&SM#5/Sensorium registration open, full programme published

The organisers of the 5th Affect and Social Media/Sensorium Conference and Art Show (25-26th June 2020) are very pleased to announce that registration is now open.

The confirmed full programme for A&SM#5 MORE-THAN is published here:

There is also a link to registration on this official UEL event page:

As with previous events, we have tried to keep costs down so that the conference is affordable to colleagues from other institutions on hourly paid or fixed term contracts, students and artists. The event is free for all UEL staff and students.

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Very best wishes,


Visit to BrainCulture Lab in April

The BrainCultures Lab at Duke looks like a fascinating project. Website still a wip. All going to plan, I’ll be visiting to talk and debate the assemblage brain with them in mid April.


Here’s the blurb…

The BrainCultures Lab develops undergraduate and doctoral students’ humanistic and interdisciplinary toolkits by fostering the study of the brain as a socially and culturally constituted object, one that exceeds the strictly biological basis assumed by the neurosciences. While the focus of the lab is specifically on the plural lives of the brain (whether as a globalized icon for “intelligence,” sci-fi film feature, signifier of mindfulness, t-shirt logo, etc.), the lab additionally opens questions about the intersection of humanities and sciences more broadly. Through embedded courses, reading groups, workshops, film series, a multimedia website, and selected speakers and events, the lab exposes Duke students across specializations to strategies for critically conceptualizing the brain from a humanistic perspective.

BrainCultures begins with the contention that the brain is a heterogeneous assemblage with a social life of its own that doubles or is independent of the organ. Rather than unquestioningly ratifying the neurosciences’ view of the brain as a natural substratum, we draw on resources from critical theory, critical race theory, philosophy, and aesthetic works in order to position the brain as a plural and cultural object of humanistic investigation. BrainCultures challenges the superabundance of scholastic perspectives that have effectively revived localization debates of the nineteenth century, which equated mental illness with brain disorders. German psychiatrist Wilhelm Griesinger’s assertion that “mental illness is brain disease” in the 1840s effectively inaugurated a century and a half of medical and cultural investment in the brain as the physical site of mind and self.  Psychoanalysis is part of this early history. Sigmund Freud’s initial work as a neuropathologist is a testament to the centrality of brain-based debates during the formative years of psychiatry’s medical professionalization, even if psychoanalysis would dramatically depart from psychiatric practice thereafter. Contemporary psychiatry’s focus on psychopharmaceutical treatment preserves the core of Griesinger’s maxim: modification to the physical operation of the brain should, in theory, be the royal road to self and subject. Recent scholarship in the field of the neuro- and medical humanities has largely followed suit, working from the presumption that humanistic inquiry should merely reproduce or transpose the findings of neuroscience into its own idiom.