Here’s a piece on the event on UEL’s website
And some photos
Blog for Dr. Tony D Sampson (academic, author)
Tag: Contagion theory
Here’s a piece on the event on UEL’s website
And some photos
Registration is now open for the Affect and Social Media Symposium#2 (2016)
Following on from the success of last year’s Affect and Social Media Symposium at UEL, the emotionUX lab in the School of Arts and Digital Industries (in collaboration with Cass School of Education and Communities) invite you to register for a second symposium continuing to explore the relation between social media, affect, feelings and emotions.
Due to a wonderful response to the call for presentations this year’s event will be much bigger. It takes place at UEL’s Docklands campus (registration starts at 9am in room EB: G. 06) on Wednesday 23rd March. The programme runs throughout the day and culminates at 6-8pm with an art Sensorium – washed down with drinks and nibbles.
This year the A&SM symposium brings together an international cast of speakers from across disciplinary boundaries. The programme (to be confirmed in full in early February) includes cross-disciplinary panel sessions grasping affect and social media through the lenses of digital emotion, individuation, experience, emoticons, new materialisms, selfies, relfies, biofeedback, feminist activism, media panic, anxiety, therapy, learning, and affective circuits, geographies, new connectivities and contagions.
The event will also feature a collaborative art ‘experience’ – Sensorium featuring the work of John Wild, Marie Brenneis, Mikey B Georgeson, Sally Labern and Dean Todd.
Please note that due to limited space all attendees will need to confirm their place at the symposium by initially registering online (see link below) before signing in on the day. We recommend early registration to guarantee a place at this popular event.
External (waged): £5
External (unwaged, student): £3
Presenters, UEL staff, students, alumni and nonhumans: Free
Register online here: http://www.uel.ac.uk/Events/2016/3/Affect-and-Social-Media-Symposium-2
Deleuze in Southend-on-Sea
Tony D Sampson
Text based on a talk given at the first Club Critical Theory night at the Railway Hotel in Southend, Essex, UK on April 17th 2014. Corrections may still be needed.
Applying Deleuze to Southend in the context a Club Critical Theory discussion is a doubly difficult task. To begin with Deleuze introduces a new vocabulary that sits atop of an already complex layer of philosophical debate. We will need to grapple with complexity theory and a strange incorporeal materialism. Then there are personal reasons that make this task problematic relating to my own situation here as a Southender. Deleuze, for me, represents an escape from certain aspects of my early working life in Southend at the local college and particularly my time spent in what we referred to then as the School of Media and Fascism. Deleuze was part of my escape plan from this horror, so returning to Southend with him in mind presents all kinds of problems, but let’s put those aside for a moment and see where Deleuze in Southend takes us.
The point of this introduction to Deleuze is to apply some critical distance between our material and expressive experiences of Southend. So let’s begin by saying what I think Deleuze is not. He is not postmodern or poststructuralist. Such generalities are, as I will try to explain, not acceptable in Deleuzian ontology. With regard to the latter, language or linguistic categories, while not discounted, they are not the major concern. I also do not see Deleuze’s post-Marxism as necessarily antithetical to the Left or indeed Marx. He was supposedly planning a book on the latter before he died. Shame we missed that one! What attracted me to Deleuze was his attempt to rally against all kinds of totality, fascism and authoritarian regimes. But there are many Deleuzes. His project is vast. What I’ll focus on here are some aspects of Difference and Repetition which seem to me to map out the trajectory of his philosophical project born out of the frustrations of 1968 and extending into his work with Guattari – a time marked by a unrequited desire for revolution. A time that instigated a need to rethink what revolution really means.
Simply put, we need to overcome an old philosophical problem; that is to say, the problem of the One and the many. This is a mereological problem – meaning the study of the relation between parts and wholes and an ongoing debate concerning what constitutes an emergent whole. Before applying this to Southend directly I want to draw a little on crowd theory to illustrate what I mean by mereology. The origins of social theory are rooted in a question concerning what constitutes individuals and crowds. That is, what happens to an individual when she becomes part of a crowd? In the late 1800s Gustave Le Bon thought that once the socially conscious individual became part of a crowd she was incorporated into a stupid and mostly unconscious collectivity. A great influence on Freud’s group psychology and 1930s fascism, Le Bon applied a kind of emergence theory that assumes that the whole has properties independent of the parts that compose it.
We can illustrate Le Bon’s claim by visiting Roots Hall Football ground every week.
Le Bon’s football crowd is an emergence of a kind of collective intelligence in reverse in which smart individuality dissipates into the unruly wholeness of the crowd. We can also see this in terms of the discourses of local policy makers when they refer to the Southend community as a whole. The properties of the emergent whole are assumed to become superveniant – meaning that the interaction between parts produces a whole that has its own properties. It is this immutable wholeness that has a downward causal power over the parts from which it has emerged. This is the kind of sociology that claims that we are the product of the society we are born into, i.e. a member of a certain class.
What Deleuze does is replace the One and the many with the multiplicity. We need to draw here on a little bit of complexity theory, but before that Deleuze and Guattari set out a really nice case against superveniant wholes in their book Anti Oedipus. In short, all things become parts. Wholes are just bigger parts. Instead of the One, we encounter populations of parts. The multiplicity becomes the organizing principle in a complex relationality between parts, which we will call here assemblages. Unlike the timelessness (synchronic) of emergent superveniant wholes, we find that assemblages are exposed to historical (diachronic) processes. A population of parts becomes a territorialization: a territory held together by relationality, but exposed to deterritorializations and reterritorializations. Assemblages also have material and expressive parts. For instance, material parts might be the buildings we surround ourselves with or without the financial capital we require to build them. Expressive parts might refer to the availability of cultural capital (knowledge e.g.) or the flow of conversations, routines, rituals, habits and discourses that co-determine the social spaces we inhabit.
The question therefore moves away from simply locating the properties of the emergent whole to the question of what brings assemblages together. What are the interactions that give life to a novel territory? We also need to take into account how interactions between parts and the wider environment: the way in which the football crowd interacts with the materiality of the stadium or the weather or the expressive voices and gestures of the away supporters.
It is nonetheless crucial that the multiplicity is not mistaken for a master process that determines the territory – the crowd e.g. We need to see this rendering of a crowd as what the Deleuzian Manuel Delanda refers to as a space of possibilities. This is a brand of Deleuze that draws heavily on complexity theory. Herein the properties of the crowd have identities that are not fixed or essential. The crowd has capacities that can affect and be affected. The interaction between home and away supporters, e.g. The crowd also has tendencies that function as pattern changers. Say Southend United actually manage promotion this season, and that’s of course more virtual than actual at this point, but should it happen then the crowd will swell in number perhaps requiring a new stadium. There is also the complexity of universal singularities to follow, which, in simple terms, provides the trajectories or lines of flight that the crowd follow. Continuing with the football theme this line of flight can be guided by fixtures, but again the design of the stadium the crowd encounters is important here, since to a great extent it provides the crowd with its contours and flows, and plays a role in its emergence. Finally, singularities are drawn to basins of attraction. Again, the shape of the crowd becomes a territory because of the material, expressive and environmental factors it is coupled to.
We can draw on another example: a building. Take Carby House and Heath House in Victoria Avenue. The so-called Gateway to Southend!
As spaces of possibility buildings have properties. They are big or small, predominantly this colour or that colour. They generally have windows. These windows also have capacities. They are windows that can be opened or smashed. But importantly, they need someone to open or smash them. Without this interaction taking place the capacity remains virtual rather than actual. It is a double event in this sense. There are tendencies too. Buildings can decay over time for all kinds of reasons; weather, lack of maintenance, vandalism etc. Investment, or a lack of it, can act as a basin of attraction which singularities are drawn to forming areas of regeneration or decay. Furthermore, decay can lead to other buildings decaying. This last point is very important to my work in assemblage theory or what I call contagion theory. Urban spaces can emerge as contagious material assemblages converging with expressive social epidemiologies. What we might call crime waves, for example, can begin with very small interactions between parts. These are events, like one solitary broken window, that can lead to further events, such as more windows being smashed. This leads to break-ins, fire, perhaps even a death.
What I have tried to do in preparation for this talk is grasp Southend as an assemblage. The questions we could ask about these spaces need to account for historical processes, the material and expressive parts, the spaces of possibility, the interactions between parts and environments, the properties, capacities, tendencies, singularities, and basins of attraction. More than that, we also need to ask what kinds of assemblage we can make from these relations. What novel critical networks, new artworks and performances can interact with existing parts? Our venue, the Railway Hotel is in many ways one such place. It was after all known locally as the BNP pub. The BNP would, I’m told, meet here, in this room. The landlord has transformed this building. He is a true Deleuzian. Hopefully Club Critical Theory can continue to provide an expression to this kind of positive change in Southend.
With photographer Iry Hor I have started to look at some of the urban assemblages that surround us. These include, on one hand, the lines of flight of regeneration; most notably, the Forum, the so-called Lego Building and the new college and university campuses. This is regeneration we can understand in part as financial territorialization. Territories formed around access to vast amounts of capital resources; for example, £54 million in 2004 for the new college campus, £14 million from the government and £9 million from EEDA for the new University of Essex building. In the case of the Forum there has been £27million invested by Southend Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College.
Love them or loathe them these new shiny buildings have the capacity to affect and be affected. I found this nice quote about the Forum in the local paper from an OAP resident living in Sunningdale Court sheltered housing in nearby Gordon Place.
“I love it. When I go out, I have to pass the building and I have this great big smile on my face as I do. I’m just so happy.”
But this area in Southend is not an indelible whole. Its access to resources is never permanent. With £8.6million cuts to government funding to the college in the next few years many of the expressive internal parts of this shiny new building will begin to dissipate. Indeed, the external interactions between the new campuses and the adjacent derelict buildings are a constant reminder of the tendencies of decay that can affect all buildings that fall into financial decline.
Again, things are never whole. Indeed, on the other hand, there is the trajectory of urban decay in Victoria Avenue, including Carby House, Heath House and the old college building in Canarvon Road. A report on the planning application for the new campuses in 2003 made it clear that “the disposal of the existing campus buildings is an important part of the delivery process for the new campus.”
It seems strange to me that these building are owned by developers. What kind of perverse development is this? To try to find out I traced back the various interactions between these so-called developers and Southend Council as reported in the local papers. These interactions are perhaps best summarized by Anna Waite, the former Tory Southend councillor responsible for planning in 2008 who said then: “I wish I knew what was happening. I haven’t heard anything from the developers for months.” Is this evidence enough for the need for public intervention into private property?
Perhaps Victoria Avenue is an example of deterritorialization? Well, things are not that simple in Deleuze’s onology because parts are at their most creative when they are deterritorialized. Carby House and Heath House are not only the rotting Gateway to Southend. They are the central hub of a contagion of decay.
Heath House closed when the remaining 300 workers were made redundant in 2000. Along with Carby House it has, in the past 14 years, become a mesmerizing example of a transformative decomposition of material parts brought about by its open interaction with the environment and a withdrawal of access to resources. But Carby House and Heath House are perhaps in the process of expressive and material reterritorialization. They are certainly a defiant example of what affordable housing means in times of austerity in Southend-on-Sea. They have become a home to the homeless.
A few notes
The School of Media and Fascism is attributed to Jairo Lugo currently at University of Sheffield.
Gustave Le Bon’s contribution to Crowd Theory is The Crowd.
For more on parts and wholes see Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia 42-50.
To better grasp Manuel Delanda’s approach to assemblages via complexity theory see A New Philosophy of Society and Philosophy and Simulation.
For more on contagion theory see Tony D Sampson’s book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks.
References to interactions between Southend Council and developers, investments in new buildings and local reaction sourced in the Evening Echo archive.
Well, I didn’t think a 12 minute TED-like presentation of Virality would be possible, but a friend emailed me this link from the wonderful Masters of Media website (University of Amsterdam). It does a very nice job of summing up the book using over 370 drawings. Certainly saves me the task of lecturing on contagion theory when I can just sit back and play this on YouTube! Thanks for that Jaimy Quadekker, Ferdy Looijen, Bozhan Chipev and Geoff Kim! Perhaps the TED format might raise as many questions as it answers (good thing that, of course), so please keep reading the book, and attending the slightly longer lectures 😉
See the Masters of Media webpage
Below text by Bozhan Chipev
At the Wildcard Symposium 2012, I presented an RSA Animate-styled video rendition of Tony D. Sampson’s new book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. The project was carried out by me and three of my New Media colleagues at the University of Amsterdam – Geoff Kim, Ferdy Looijen and Jaimy Quadekker.
The content of the video presents the ideas of Sampson in a condensed fashion – we attempted to fit in just over twelve minutes most of the Tardean theoretical framework that the author uses to base his arguments on, along with the newly developed concepts of societal control through the viral distribution of fear and love.
We went about producing the video the way we thought RSA Animate approach their projects. After reading the book, we wrote a “script” styled as a lecture in front of an audience (similar to a TED talk or university class). We then recorded the audio voice-over and started with the drawing process. The final version of the video is produced with just over 370 still photos of drawings on white board that are arranged in sync with the audio.
See the Masters of Media webpage.
There’s also an interesting interview with Andy Goffey about Evil Media.
(Goldsmiths Oct 22nd)
Virality then returns to digital networks by referring to two Evil Media style stratagems.
The first, “immunologic,” permeates the very matter and functionality of network security. The binary filtering of self and non-self, and known and unknown, exceeds abstract diagrammatic forces… becoming part of the concrete relations established between end users and the software they encounter.
In contrast to a rhetorical analysis of security discourses, what is acknowledged here is how the immunologic affects the matter-functions of a network, imposing the molar force of the organism on software designed to filter out viral anomalies.
The “immunologic” does more than represent the defense of the organic body via the importation of biological language.
It concretely organizes these defenses in terms of organs or organisms, which ward off bodily threats according to the binary divisions of self and non-self, and known and unknown.
Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous use of the “immunologic” to justify the War in Iraq demonstrates how it can be universally applied across all kinds of networks.
Despite these frequent epidemics of panic and terror, it is contagions of hope, faith, and more significantly perhaps, love that Tarde contends are far more catching.
He clearly regarded love as a powerful political stratagem.
In his 1905 novel Underground Man, Tarde writes about the fate of the human race as it is forced to live beneath the surface of the earth when the sun begins to die out.
This catastrophic environmental event provokes social instabilities marked by a shift from social hierarchy to social harmony.
As a consequence, love not only replaces the energy of the sun, but it becomes the force by which social power circulates.
Love becomes the very air the Underground Man breathes.
Not surprisingly… perhaps, humans soon become embroiled in a bloody conflict for this precious resource.
On one side, there are those who fight “to assert the freedom of love with its uncertain fecundity.” And on the other, there are those who want to regulate it.
In the forced intimacy of a cave, Tarde writes, there is no mean between warfare and love, between mutual slaughter or mutual embraces.”
Love is also endemic to the extra-logical influences that underpin The Laws of Imitation…
…and by pointing to the desire to love as an exercise of biopower, Tarde similarly raises questions concerning what is located between the uncertain fecundity of love and the tyrannies that seek to regulate its flow.
Indeed, there seems to be a very thin line separating…
On one hand, the spontaneity of a love that spreads freely
And on the other, a tyranny of love that controls.
There is nothing more natural, Tarde states, than those who love each other… should copy each other, but love-imitation is a distinctly asymmetrical relation. It is the lover who generally copies the beloved.
So Tarde’s social man is famously the somnambulist. We know how credulous and docile this hypnotic subject becomes… What is suggested to him becomes incarnated in him. It penetrates him before it expresses itself in his posture, gesture and speech.
For writers like Thrift…
… it is the absorption of affect that produces these incarnations.
They become comparable to, schools of fish briefly stabilized by particular spaces, ephemeral solidifications, which pulse with particular affects.
More relevant perhaps to the age of networks, is the question of what constitutes the nonconscious incarnations of software culture.
Here Evil Media grasps contemporary media practices of trickery, deception, and manipulation, as key.
Like this, the persuasion-management of the end user occurs via an array of sophist techniques… cropping up like a mesmerizing flow that intercepts points of intersection between attention and inattention, and cognitive and noncognitive registers.
As Evil Media puts it:
The end-user has only finite resources for attention.
She will slip up sooner or later. . . . A keen interest in the many points at which fatigue, overwork, and stress make her inattentive is invaluable.
In attention economies, where the premium is placed on capturing the eye, the ear, the imagination, the time of individuals . . . it is in the lapses of vigilant, conscious, rationality that the real gains are made.
And despite the hyperbole, the capture of inattention is not really a trick viral marketing can pull off…
The problem with viral marketing is that it’s just not viral enough.
Inattention and distraction are nevertheless, becoming increasingly targeted in the practices of the neuromarketer, and its object: The brain!
This returns us to the rhizomatic network. Not necessarily the digital networks of the Spam Book though. Rather the neuron network. It was, after all, the discontinuous synaptic event that inspired the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, as well as featuring writ large in What is Philosophy?
I conclude here with two questions concerning what might be called neuroculture: These are…
what can be done to a brain?
…and what can a brain do?
The first follows the development of a raft of neurotechnologies, initially intended to map the brain’s surface structure and functionality.
Research began in the late 1800s to microscopically trace the discontinuities of the nervous system.
Since then the neuron has been put to work in a variety of ways.
For example, neuropharmaceuticals and technologies, initially developed to diagnose and treat ADD, OCD and dementia, have been re-appropriated by marketers, the military, and for other off-label uses in education and the science lab.
However, alongside the manipulation, enhancement and inhibition of neurotransmitters,
… there is a brain that confronts, and becomes a junction between itself and chaos.
This is not a metaphysics that transcends matter. Instead, the incorporeal spreads on the material surface.
Perhaps this points to a materialist understanding of a synaptic collective, which is as much nonconscious as it is conscious.
Tarde was indeed quick to refer to cerebral imitation functions reaching out to the social world in ways that surpass language. His laws of imitation have not surprisingly perhaps been attributed to so-called mirror neurons.
This prompts only more questions though
To begin with, what kind of neuroculture is this, when it is not the mind or the person, but the brain that thinks.
And lastly, what kind of subjectivity is this which coincides with events at the molecular level of neuron transmission?
I’ve been working on media contagion theory for a quiet a while now. After a number of journal articles published between 2004 and 2008, mainly looking at how computer viruses might help us to understand the new media, I wrote the contagion section intro to the Spam Book, co-edited with Jussi Parikka and published back in 2009. Unbeknown to me then another book was published that year by Duke University Press which similarly dealt with contagion through the lenses of assemblage theory. Amit Rai’s notion of a contagion theory also looks to distance itself from metaphorical viral theories (my aim in Virality). I’ve only just got round to taking a better look at this book, and it is a fascinating account of India’s new media assemblages. I also found out that Amit has some material posted to a blog! I thought it useful to make a link to it here. Media Assemblages.
I’ve been researching rasa theory in connection to neuroaesthetics. I’d been reading The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience by Ramachandran and Hirstein and was struck by their essentialist reading of rasa. Thanks Amit for offering a potentially different line of flight and making the link between rasa, assemblage and contagion theory (pp 223-224).
Here’s the synopsis for Untimely Bollywood: Globalization and India’s New Media Assemblage, Duke University Press, 2009.
Known for its elaborate spectacle of music, dance, costumes, and fantastical story lines, Bollywood cinema is a genre that foregrounds narrative rupture, indeterminacy, and bodily sensation. In Untimely Bollywood, Amit S. Rai argues that the fast-paced, multivalent qualities of contemporary Bollywood cinema are emblematic of the changing conditions of media consumption in a globalizing India. Through analyses of contemporary media practices, Rai shifts the emphasis from a representational and linear understanding of the effects of audiovisual media to the multiple, contradictory, and evolving aspects of media events. He uses the Deleuzian concept of assemblage as a model for understanding the complex clustering of technological, historical, and physical processes that give rise to contemporary media practices. Exploring the ramifications of globalized media, he sheds light on how cinema and other popular media organize bodies, populations, and spaces in order to manage the risky excesses of power and sensation and to reinforce a liberalized postcolonial economy.
Rai recounts his experience of attending the first showing of a Bollywood film in a single-screen theater in Bhopal: the sensory experience of the exhibition space, the sound system, the visual style of the film, the crush of the crowd. From that event, he elicits an understanding of cinema as a historically contingent experience of pleasure, a place where the boundaries of identity and social spaces are dissolved and redrawn. He considers media as a form of contagion, endlessly mutating and spreading, connecting human bodies, organizational structures, and energies, thus creating an inextricable bond between affect and capital. Expanding on the notion of media contagion, Rai traces the emerging correlation between the postcolonial media assemblage and capitalist practices, such as viral marketing and the development of multiplexes and malls in India.
Christmas Comes Early: The English Summer Riots
The contrast between the student protests in London, which have, after the storming of Tory HQ in November 2010 and political defeat a month later in Parliament Square, seemingly lost momentum, and the contagious English Riots is worth considering. On one hand, the fury of the students was contained in police kettles, on the other, the spontaneity of the summer riots left the authorities mostly ineffectual. What kind of desire-event fuelled the riots? Perhaps they were an aberration of consumerism as some have suggested (The Guardian, Monday 5 December 2011). These were consumer subjectivities in the making. As widely reported the rioters couldn’t believe their luck. Christmas had arrived early, and stuff was for free! The good news quickly spread on the streets and through Blackberry too, as well as via wall to wall TV and press coverage. But more importantly the riots revive an old perplexing question concerning the subjectivation of the poor. That is, how astonishing it is that after centuries of exploitation they only riot and steal on rare occasions rather than on a regular basis (See Deleuze and Guattari, 1984)
Perhaps the rioter’s desire to loot needs to be grasped in this light as a kind of perversion of the desire to shop: an anomalous desire-event that reappropriated, for a few days at least, the everyday enslavement of the shopping mall the consumer subject commonly desires for himself and others. The answer will certainly not be found within the riotous crowd itself, but rather within the problem of the viewing public. While a few thousand watched the protests and riots on YouTube, the larger public experienced a pacifying action-at-a-distance via coverage of student “attacks” on the royals and the fire extinguisher thrown at the police. The enduring media images of the rioters are of plasma TVs being ripped from the walls of an electrical store.
The Imbaba Contagion: Inzel! Iinzel!
It is difficult to put into words the vital force of a contagious desire-event as it flows upward through the stratifications of social power. Following Tarde, Thrift has called similar processes of affective contagion an imitative momentum of conversation and gesture, “boosted and extended by all manner of technologies.” It is a continuous “adaptive creep” which is both the background and foreground of the contagion that spreads (Thrift, 2009). Yet the Arab Spring has enabled us to witness firsthand the impetus of revolutionary contagion reach its threshold. For instance, take a look at Philip Rizk and Jasmina Metwaly’s short film of crowds pouring out of Imbaba on the 28th Jan 2011 on their way downtown to Tahrir Square. There are a few similarities here with the events in England. Certainly, Mubarak’s government has long “stigmatized neighborhoods like Imbaba as a netherworld of crime and danger” (New York Times, Feb 15 2011).
Like the many locations in which the English Riots took place it was rendered an apolitical zone. The intensity of the emotions of this disenfranchised crowd is comparable to the English looters too. But the energy is somehow steered from these deprived neighbourhoods toward the political centre of the capital city. This is not an event guided by Web 2.0 alone. Internet access in Egypt is amongst the lowest in North Africa and the Middle East. Imbaba in particular is not the domain of Facebook politics or the Twittering classes. The networkability of the desire-event spread from person to person tapping into the rage of Cario’s poor who bore the brunt of Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship for years. The crowd, Rizk tells us, chants “inzel! inzel!” (come down! come down!), a call to neighbours to join the march and demand the fall of the regime. Like the poor neighborhoods of Sidi Bouzid where the Arab Spring began in Tunisia with the immolation of the street vender, Mohamed Bouazizi, the momentum moves rapidly to the government buildings.
Alexandra Topping and Fiona Bawdon “It was like Christmas’: a consumerist feast amid the summer riots” The Guardian, Monday 5 December 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/05/summer-riots-consumerist-feast-looters
This is a somewhat adapted version of Deleuze and Guattari’s references to Wilhelm Reich on the mass psychology of fascism in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, (London: The Athlone Press, 1984), 37-38.
Nigel Thrift, “Pass It On: Towards a Political Economy of Propensity,” 8.
Philip Rizk and Jasmina Metwaly made this remarkable video of a huge popular protest in Cairo on 28 January.
Anthony Shadid, “In One Slice of Egypt, Daily Woes Top Religion,” New York Times, Feb 15 2011.
The blurb for Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks
A new theory of viral relationality beyond the biological
“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
In this thought-provoking work, Tony D. Sampson presents a contagion theory fit for the age of networks. Unlike memes and microbial contagions, Virality does not limit itself to biological analogies and medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of contagious assemblages, events, and affects. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is the way society comes together and relates.
Sampson argues that a biological understanding of contagion has been universally distributed by way of the rhetoric of fear used in the antivirus industry and other popular discourses surrounding network culture. This understanding is also detectable in concerns over too much connectivity, including problems of global financial crisis and terrorism. Sampson’s “virality” is as universal as that of the biological meme and microbe, but is not understood through representational thinking expressed in metaphors and analogies. Rather, Sampson leads us to understand contagion theory through the social relationalities first established in Gabriel Tarde’s microsociology and subsequently recognized in Gilles Deleuze’s ontological worldview.
According to Sampson, the reliance on representational thinking to explain the social behavior of networking—including that engaged in by nonhumans such as computers—allows language to over-categorize and limit analysis by imposing identities, oppositions, and resemblances on contagious phenomena. It is the power of these categories that impinges on social and cultural domains. Assemblage theory, on the other hand, is all about relationality and encounter, helping us to understand the viral as a positively sociological event, building from the molecular outward, long before it becomes biological.
Dr. Tony D. Sampson is senior lecturer and researcher in the School of Arts and Digital Industries at the University of East London.
Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.
4 of 4
Subjectivation at the level of the Neuron.
So what kind of subjectivity does neuromarketing present? Here I have found Tarde very useful. His microsociology is not really interested in the conscious human level of experience (individual or collective): a Tardean assemblage makes no distinction between individual persons, bacteria, atoms, cells, or larger societies of events like markets, nations, and cities. As Bruno Latour puts it, with Tarde, “everything is individual and yet there is no individual in the etymological sense of that which cannot be further divided” (Latour 2009: 11).
It is indeed at the level of the firing neuron that the subjectivations of neuromarketing occur. The neuromarketer thus exploits the relation between what is unconsciously associated in the brain and a particular social action, that is, purchase intent.
When neuropersuasion puts the neuron to work it becomes just another aspect of the controlling deterritorialized strata of (non)cognitive capitalism.
Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.
3 of 4
These are indeed two questions hanging over my take on the Tardean trajectory into neuron science. I would like to briefly address them here as a precursor to a perhaps more detailed study to come.
Regarding the legitimacy of this business/science incursion into the neuron I want to respond to an article published in the New York Times a few years back. Like many journalistic efforts on the subject of neuromarketing “Is the Ad a Success? The Brain Waves Tell All” is in absolute awe of the claims of neuroscience to be able to measure what a consumer unconsciously responds to. It’s a wonderful example for my purposes, looking at, amongst other ads, the Apple versus PC campaign. The piece ends with this thought…
“Some consumer advocates [is that what they call us?] question the role of biometrics in ad research. They worry that blending “Weird Science” with “Mad Men” will give marketers an unfair advantage over consumers.”
But apparently this is not what they intend to do. “The role of neuromarketing is to understand how people feel and react,” claims the chief analytics officer at EmSense neuromarketing. “It in no way sets out to meddle with normal, natural response mechanisms.” EmSense’s opinion, the article continues, is “echoed by Robert E. Knight, the director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, who is also the chief science adviser at NeuroFocus.“ We’re not trying to predict an individual’s thoughts and actions and we’re not trying to input messages,” he says.
On the contrary, marketing is, arguably, all about cutting out uncertainties by making consumer behavior evermore predictable. This is what crowd sourcing and co-creation also do. They parasite the consumer experience and pull it into the production line. Neuromarketing though works on a deeper level of persuasion.
Watch another NeuroFocus video.
This one claims that neuromarketing predicts the marketplace performance of ads derived from the three metrics of persuasion, novelty, and awareness. One way in which to do this is to prime the experience of consumption by intervening directly at the level of perception and absorption. This involves the seeking out of, at the analysis and conceptual design stage, what subconsciously attracts and draws the attention. The affective priming of experience can, it is claimed, guide attention and potentially steer intent.
So, there are no “Weird Science” probes in the sense that people are having sensors fed directly into the brain or indeed being directly rigged up to MRI or EEG devices while consuming (that’s all done at the testing stage), but there is an indirect tapping into perception and absorption at the subliminal level of consumer experience. The “Mad Men” are inside your head (was that a Pink Floyd lyric?)