Tag: neuromarketing

Digital Neuroland :: An Interview with Tony D. Sampson by Rizosfera collective, July 2017

Many thanks to Rizofera collective for this interview –  soon to be published along with some other conversations (translated in Italian too).

The original is here with some added images by Francesco Tacchini and Dorota Piekorz.


Text from Obsolete Capitalism

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 “rotten world” built on an accelerated bond of technology and ideology of value and profit driven markets, 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.

Let’s start with your first book, published in 2009, The Spam Book edited in collaboration with Jussi Parikka, a compendium from the Dark Side of Digital Culture. Why did you feel the urge to investigate the bad sides of digital culture as a writing debut? In the realm of “spam” seen as an intruder, an excess, an anomaly, and a menace, you have met the “virus” which has characterized your research path up until today.


As I recall Jussi and I jokingly framed The Spam Book as the antithesis to Bill Gates’ Road Ahead, but our dark side perspective was not so much about an evil “bad” side. It was more about shedding some light on digital objects that were otherwise obscured by discourses concerning security and epidemiological panics that rendered objects “bad”. So our introduction is really about challenging these discursively formed “bad” objects; these anomalous objects and events that seem to upset the norms of corporate networking.

We were also trying to escape the linguistic syntax of the biological virus, which defined much of the digital contagion discourse at the time, trapping the digital anomaly in the biological metaphors of epidemiology and Neo-Darwinism. This is something that I’ve tried to stick to throughout my writings on the viral, however, in some ways though I think we did stay with the biological metaphor to some extent in The Spam Book, but tried to turn it on its head so that rather than point to the nasty bits (spam, viruses, worms) as anomalous threats, we looked at the viral topology of the network in terms of horror autotoxicus or autoimmunity. That is, the very same network that is designed to share information becomes this auto-destructive vector for contagion. But beyond that, the anomaly is also constitutive of network culture. For example, the computer virus determines what you can and can’t do on a network. In a later piece we also pointed to the ways in which spam and virus writing had informed online marketing practices. (1)

In this context we were interested in the potential of the accidental viral topology. Jussi’s Digital Contagions looked at Virilio’s flipping of the substance/accident binary and I did this Transformations journal article on accidental topologies, so we were, I guess, both trying get away from prevalent discursive formations (e.g. the wonders of sharing versus the perils of spam) and look instead to the vectorial capacities of digital networks in which various accidents flourished.

Virality, Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks came out in 2012. It is an important essay which enables readers to understand virality as a social theory of the new digital dominion from a philosophical, sociological and political point of view (with the help of thinkers like Tarde and Deleuze). The path moves from the virus (the object of research) to the viral action (the spreading in social network areas to produce drives) to the contagion (the hypnotic theory of collective behaviour). How does the virus act in digital field and in the web? And how can we control spreading and contagion?

Before answering these specific questions, I need to say how important Tarde is to this book. Even the stuff on Deleuze and Guattari is really only read through their homage to Tarde. His contagion theory helped me to eschew biological metaphors, like the meme, which are discursively applied to nonbiological contexts. More profoundly Tarde also opens up a critical space wherein the whole nature/culture divide might be collapsed.

So to answer your questions about the digital field and control, we need to know that Tarde regarded contagion as mostly accidental. Although it is the very thing that produces the social, to the extent that by even counter-imitating we are still very much products of imitation, Tarde doesn’t offer much hope in terms of how these contagions can be controlled or resisted. He does briefly mention the cultivation or nurturing of imitation, however, this is not very well developed. But Virality adds affect theory to Tarde (and some claim that he is a kind of proto-affect theorist), which produces some different outcomes. When, for example, we add notions of affective atmospheres to his notion of the crowd, i.e. the role of moods, feelings and emotions, and the capacity to affectively prime and build up a momentum of mood, a new kind of power dynamic of contagion comes into view.

While we must not lose sight of Tarde’s accident, the idea that capricious affective contagion can be stirred or steered into action in some way so as to have a kind of an effect needs to be considered. Crudely, we can’t cause virality or switch it on, but we can agitate or provoke it into potential states of vectorial becoming. This is how small changes might become big; how that is, the production of a certain mood, for example, might eventually territorialize a network. Although any potential contagious overspill needs to be considered a refrain that could, at any moment, collapse back into a capricious line of flight.

The flipside of this affective turn, which has, on one hand, allowed us new critical insights into how things might potentially spread on a network, is that digital marketers and political strategists are, on the other hand, looking very closely at moods through strategies of emotional branding and marketing felt experiences. The entire “like” economy of corporate social media is, of course, designed emotionally. Facebook’s unethical emotional contagion experiment in 2014 stands out as an example of how far these attempts to steer the accidents of contagion might go.

Five years after the release of Virality, The Assemblage Brain is published in 2017. A year that has seen a new political paradigm: Trump has succeeded Obama in the United States, a country which we could define as the benchmark of the development of today’s western élites and as a metaphor of power. Both have used the social networks to spread their political message, political unconscious as you would say. As an expert of contagion, and political use of the social networks, what lesson can we learn from such experience?

In the UK we’re still arguing over what kind of dystopia we’re in: 1984, Brave New World? So it’s funny that someone described the book to me as a dystopian novel.

“Surely all these terrible things haven’t happened yet?”

“This is just a warning of where we might go wrong in the future.”

I’m not so sure about that. Yes, I make references to the dystopian fictions that inspired Deleuze’s control society, but in many ways I think I underestimated just how bad things have got.

It’s a complex picture though, isn’t it? There are some familiar narrative emerging. The mass populist move to the right has, in part, been seen as a class based reaction against the old neoliberal elites and their low wage economy which has vastly enriched the few. We experienced the fallout here in the UK with Brexit too. Elements of the working class seemed to vociferously cheer for Farage. Perhaps Brexit was a catchier, emotionally branded virus. It certainly unleashed a kind of political unconsciousness, tapping into a nasty mixture of nationalism and racism under the seemingly empowering, yet ultimately oppressing slogan “We Want Our Country Back.” Indeed, the data shows that more Leave messages spread on social media than Remain.

But those quick to blame the stupidity of white working class somnambulists rallying against a neoliberal elite have surely got it wrong. Brexit made a broad and bogus emotional appeal to deluded nationalists from across the class divide who feared the country had lost its identity because of the free movement of people. This acceleration towards the right was, of course, steered by the trickery of a sinister global coalition of corporate-political fascists – elites like Farage, Johnson and Gove here, and Trump’s knuckleheads in the US.

What can we learn about the role of digital media played in this trickery? We are already learning more about the role of filter bubbles that propagate these influences, and fake news, of course. We also need to look more closely at the claims surrounding the behavioural data techniques of Cambridge Analytica and the right wing networks that connect this sinister global coalition to the US billionaire, Robert Mercer. Evidently, claims that the behavioural analysis of personal data captured from social media can lead to mass manipulation are perhaps overblown, but again, we could be looking at very small and targeted influences that leads to something big. Digital theorists also need to focus on the effectiveness of Trump supporting Twitter bots and the affects of Trump’s unedited, troll-like directness on Twitter.

But we can’t ignore the accidents of influence. Indeed, I’m now wondering if there’s a turn of events. Certainly, here in the UK, after the recent General Election, UKIP seem to be a spent political force, for now anyhow. The British Nationalist Party have collapsed. The Tories are now greatly weakened. So while we cannot ignore the rise of extreme far right hate crime, it seems now that although we were on the edge of despair, and many felt the pain was just too much to carrying on, all of a sudden, there’s some hope again. “We Want Our Country Back” has been replaced with a new hopeful earworm chant of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!”

There are some comparisons here with Obama’s unanticipated election win. A good part of Obama love grew from some small emotive postings on social media. Similarly, Corbyn’s recent political career has emerged from a series of almost accidental events; from his election as party leader to this last election result. Public opinion about austerity, which seemed to be overwhelmingly and somnambulistically in favour of self-oppression, has, it seems, flipped. The shocking events of the Grenfell Tower fire seems to be having a similar impact on Tory austerity as Hurricane Katrina did on the unempathetic G.W. Bush.

It’s interesting that Corbyn’s campaign machine managed to ride the wave of social media opinion with some uplifting, positive messages about policy ideas compared to the fearmongering of the right. The Tories spent £1million on negative Facebook ads, while Labour focused on producing mostly positive, motivating and sharable videos. Momentum are also worked with developers, designers, UI/UX engineers on mobile apps that galvanized campaign support on the ground.

Let’s now turn to your book, The Assemblage Brain. The first question is about neuroculture. It is in fact quite clear that you are not approaching it under a biological, psychological, economic or marketing point of view. What is your approach in outlining neuroculture and more specifically what do you define as neurocapitalism?

The idea for the book was mostly prompted by criticism of fleeting references to mirror neurons in Virality. Both Tarde and Deleuze invested heavily in the brain sciences in their day and I suppose I was following on with that cross-disciplinary trajectory. But this engagement with science is, of course, not without its problems. So I wanted to spend some time thinking through how my work could relate to science, as well as art. There were some contradictions to reconcile. On one hand, I had followed this Deleuzian neuro-trajectory, but on the other hand, the critical theorist in me struggled with the role science plays in the cultural circuits of capitalism. I won’t go into too much detail here, but the book begins by looking at what seems to be a bit of theoretical backtracking by Deleuze and Guattari in their swansong What is Philosophy? In short, as Stengers argues, the philosophy of mixture in their earlier work is ostensibly replaced by the almost biblical announcement of “thou shalt not mix!” But it seems that the reappearance of disciplinary boundaries helps us to better understand how to overcome the different enunciations of philosophy, science and art, and ultimately, via the method of the interference, produce a kind of nonlocalised philosophy, science and art.

What is Philosophy? is also crucially about the brain’s encounter with chaos. It’s a counter- phenomenological, Whiteheadian account of the brain that questions the whole notion of matter and what arises from it. I think its subject matter also returns us to Bergson’s antilocationist stance in Matter and Memory. So in part, The Assemblage Brain is a neurophilosophy book. It explores the emotional brain thesis and the deeply ecological nature of noncognitive sense making. But the first part traces a neuropolitical trajectory of control that connects the neurosciences to capitalism, particularly apparent in the emotion turn we see in the management of digital labour and new marketing techniques, as well as the role of neuropharmaceuticals in controlling attention.

So neurocapitalism perhaps begins with G.W. Bush announcement that the 1990s were the Decade of the Brain. Thereafter, government and industry investment in neuroscience research has exceeded genetics and is spun out to all kinds of commercial applications. It is now this expansive discursive formation that needs unpacking. But how to proceed? Should we analyse this discourse? Well, yes, but a problem with discourse analysis is that it too readily rubbishes science for making concrete facts from the hypothetical results of experimentation rather than trying to understand the implications of experimentation. To challenge neurocapitalism I think we need to take seriously both concrete and hypothetical experimentation. Instead of focusing too much on opening up a critical distance, we need to ask what is it that science is trying to make functional. For example, critical theory needs to directly engage with neuroeconomics and subsequent claims about the role neurochemicals might play in the relation between emotions and choice, addiction and technology use, and attention and consumption. It also needs to question the extent to which the emotional turn in the neurosciences has been integrated into the cultural circuits of capitalism. It needs ask why neuroscientists, like Damasio, get paid to do keynotes at neuromarketing conferences

Another Spinozian question. After What can a virus do? in Virality you have moved to What can a brain do? in The Assemblage Brain. Can you describe your shift from the virus to the brain and especially what you want to reach in your research path of Spinozian enquiry What can a body do? What creative potential do you attribute to the brain? And in Virilio’s perspective how many “hidden incidents in the brain itself” may lie in questioning: What can be done to a brain? How dangerous can the neural essence be when applied to technological development? The front line seems to be today in the individual cerebral areas and in the process of subjectivity under ruling diagrams of neural types…

Yes, the second part of the book looks at the liberating potential of sense making ecologies. I don’t just mean brain plasticity here. I’m not so convinced with Malabou’s idea that we can free the brain by way knowing our brain’s plastic potential. It plays a part, but we risk simply transferring the sovereignty of the self to the sovereignty of the synaptic self. I’m less interested in the linguistically derived sense of self we find here, wherein the symbolic is assumed to explain to us who we are (the self that says “I”). I’m more interested in Malabou’s warning that brain plasticity risks being hijacked by neoliberal notions of individualised worker flexibility.

Protevi’s Spinoza-inspired piece on the Nazis Nuremburg Rallies becomes more important in the book. So there’s different kinds of sensory power that can either produce more passive somnambulist Nazis followers or encourage a collective capacity towards action that fights fascism. Both work on a population through affective registers, which are not necessarily positive or negative, but rather sensory stimulations that produce certain moods. So, Protevi usefully draws on Deleuze and Bruce Wexler’s social neuroscience to argue that subjectivity is always being made (becoming) in deeply relational ways. Through our relation to carers, for instance, we see how subjectivity is a multiple production, never a given – more a perpetual proto-subjectivity in the making. Indeed, care is, in itself, deeply sensory and relational. The problem is that the education of our senses is increasingly experienced in systems of carelessness; from Nuremburg to the Age of Austerity. This isn’t all about fear. The Nazis focus on joy and pleasure (Freude), for example, worked on the mood of a population enabling enough racist feelings and a sense of superiority to prepare for war and the Holocaust. Capitalism similarly acts to pacify consumers and workers; to keep “everybody happy now” in spite of the degrees of nonconscious compulsion, obsolescence and waste, and disregard for environmental destruction. Yet, at the extreme, in the Nazis death camps, those with empathy were most likely to die. Feelings were completely shut down. In all these cases though, we find these anti-care systems in which the collective capacity to power is closed down.

Nonetheless, brains are deeply ecological. In moments of extreme sensory deprivation they will start to imagine images and sounds. The socially isolated brain will imagine others. In this context, it’s interesting that Wexler returns us to the importance of imitative relations. Again, we find here an imitative relation that overrides the linguistic sense of an inner self (a relation of interiority) and points instead to sense making in relation to exteriority. Without having to resort to mirror neurons, I feel there is a strong argument here for imitation as a powerful kind of affective relation that can function on both sides of Spinoza’s affective registers.


Let’s talk about specialized Control and neurofeedback: the neurosubject seen as the slave of the future of the sedated behaviour. Is it possible to train or to correct a brain? Let’s go back to the relation between politics and neuroculture. Trump’s administration displays neuropolitics today: for example “Neurocore” is a company where Betsy DeVos (current Trump’s US Secretary of Education) is the main shareholder. It is a company specialised in neuro-feedback techniques where one can learn how to modulate and therefore to control internal or external cerebral functions like some human-computer interfaces do. Neurocore affirms that they are able to positively work the electric impulses of the cerebral waves. What can we expect from mental wellness researches through neurofeedback and from self-regulated or digitally self-empowered cerebral manipulations, in politics and in society?

Of course, claims made by these brain training companies are mostly about gimmicky, money spinning, neuro-speculation. They are money spinners. But I think this focus on ADHD is interesting. It also addresses the point you made in the previous question about being neurotypical. So Neurocore, like other similar businesses, claim to be able to treat the various symptoms of attention deficit by applying neuroscience. This usually means diagnosis via EEG – looking at brainwaves associated with attention/inattention – and then some application of noninvasive neurofeedback rather than drug interventions. OK, so by stimulating certain brainwaves it is perhaps possible to produce a degree of behavioural change akin to Pavlov or Skinner. But aside from these specific claims, there’s more a general and political relation established between the sensory environments of capitalism and certain brain-somatic states. I think these relations are crucial to understanding the paradoxical and dystopic nature of neurocapitalism.

For example, ADHD is assumed by many to be linked to faulty dopamine receptors and detected by certain brainwaves (there’s a FDA certified EEG diagnosis in the US), but the condition itself is a paradoxical mix of attention and inattention. On one hand, people with ADHD are distracted from the things they are supposed to neurotypically pay attention to, like school, work, paying the bills etc., and on the other, they are supposed to be hyper- attentive to the things that are regarded as distractions, like computer games, and other obsessions that they apparently spend disproportionate time on. There is a clear attempt here to manage certain kinds of attention through differing modes of sensory stimulation. But what’s neurotypical for school seems to clash with what’s neurotypical in the shopping mall. Inattention, distractibility, disorganization, impulsiveness and restlessness seem to be prerequisite behaviours for hyper-consumption.

Not surprisingly then, ADHD, OCD and dementia become part of the neuromarketer’s tool bag; that is, the consumer is modelled by a range of brain pathologies e.g. the attention- challenged, forgetful consumer whose compulsive drives are essential to brand obsessions. All this links to the control society thesis and Deleuze’s location of marketing as the new enemy and the potential infiltration of neurochemicals and brainwaves as the latest frontier in control.

What I do in the book is look back at the origins of the control society thesis, found explicitly in the dystopias of Burroughs and implicitly in Huxley. What we find is a familiar paradoxical switching between freedom and slavery, joyful coercion and oppression. In short, the most effective dystopias are always dressed up as utopias.

What then is an assemblage brain? It seems to me that a precise thought line passing from Bergson, Tarde, Deleuze, Guattari, Whitehead, Ruyer and Simondon has been traced here. You write: Everything is potentially «becoming brain». Why? And which difference is there with the cybernetic model of brain, prevailing today?

Although I don’t really do much Whitehead in the book, I think his demand for a nonbifurcated theory of nature is the starting point for the assemblage brain. Certainly, by the time I get to discuss Deleuze’s The Fold, Whitehead is there in all but name. So there’s this beautiful quote that I’ve used in a more recent article that perfectly captures what I mean…

[W]e cannot determine with what molecules the brain begins and the rest of the body ends. Further, we cannot tell with what molecules the body ends and the external world begins. The truth is that the brain is continuous with the body, and the body is continuous with the rest of the natural world. Human experience is an act of self-origination including the whole of nature, limited to the perspective of a focal region, located within the body, but not necessarily persisting in any fixed coordination with a definite part of the brain. 2

This captures the antilocationist stance of the book, which rallies against a series of locationist positions in neuroculture ranging from what has been described as fMRI- phrenology to the neurophilosophy of Metzinger’s Platonic Ego Tunnel. The cybernetic model of sense making is a locationist model of sense making writ large. The cognitive brain is this computer that stores representations somewhere in a mental model that seems to hover above matter. It communicates with the outside world through internal encoding/decoding information processors, and even when this information becomes widely distributed through external networks, the brain model doesn’t change, but instead we encounter the same internal properties in this ridiculous notion of a megabrain or collective intelligence. We find a great antidote to the megabrain in Tarde’s social monadology, but The Fold brilliantly upsets the whole notion that the outside is nothing more than an image stored on the inside. On the contrary, the inside is nothing more than a fold on the outside.

To further counter such locationist perspectives on sense making – Whitehead’s limitations of the focal region – we need to rethink the question of matter and what arises from it. For example, Deleuze’s use of Ruyer results in this idea that everything is potentially becoming brain. There are, as such, micro-brains everywhere in Whitehead’s nonbifurcated assemblage – the society of molecules that compose the stone, e.g. which senses the warmth of the sun.

There’s evidently politics in here too. The ADHD example I mentioned is a locationist strategy that says our response to the stresses and disruptions experienced in the world today can be traced back to a problem that starts inside the head. On the contrary, it’s in our relations with these systems of carelessness that we will find the problem!

You declare that the couple “mind/brain” is insolvable. Against the ratio of the scientific concept of the «mind» you counterpose the chaotic materiality of the «brain» writing that the brain is the chaos which continues to haunt science (p. 195). Can we say that such irreducible escape from chaos expressed in your metaphor of Huxley’s escape from Plato’s cavern, shows your preference for What is Philosophy by Deleuze and Guattari rather than A Thousand Plateaus where the assemblage theory is displayed?

So yes, in The Fold there is no mind/brain distinction, just, as What is Philosophy continues with, this encounter between matter and chaos. The brain simply returns or is an exchange point for the expression of chaos – Whitehead’s narrow “focal point” of the percipient event. This is, as Stengers argues, nothing more than a mere foothold of perception, not a command post! Such a concept of nature evidently haunts the cognitive neurosciences approach that seeks, through neuroaesthetics, for example, to locate the concept of beauty in the brain. We might be able to trace a particular sensation to a location in the brain, by, for example, tweaking a rat’s whisker so that it corresponds with a location in the brain, but the neurocorrelates between these sensations and the concept of beauty are drastically misunderstood as a journey from matter to mental stuff or matter to memory.

I think the metaphor of Huxley’s acid fuelled escape from Plato’s cave, which is contrasted with Dequincy’s opiated journey to the prison of the self, helps, in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way, to explore the difference between relations of interiority and exteriority or tunnels and folds. The point is to contrast Dequincy’s need to escape the harsh world he experienced in the early industrial age by hiding inside his opiated dream world with Huxley’s acid induced experience of “isness.” Huxley was certainly reading Bergson when he wrote Doors of Perception, so I think he was looking to route round the kind of perception explained by the journey from matter to the mental. My attempt at a somewhat crude lyrical conclusion is that while Dequincy hides in his tunnel Huxley is out there in the nonbifurcated fold…

One last question involves the aspect of a meeting between a virus and a brain. Which ethical, biological, political, social and philosophical effects may occur when viruses are purposely introduced/inoculated into human brain, as with «organoid» derived from grown cells in research laboratories? Growing a brain from embryonic cells and wildly experimenting modifying its growth can take the zoon politikon to a critical edge? Neither machines, or men or cyborg, but simple wearable synthetic micro- masses. Are we approaching in huge strides the bio-inorganic era that Deleuze defined in his book on Foucault, as the era of man in charge of the very rocks, or inorganic matter (the domain of silicon)?

One way to approach this fascinating question might be to again compare Metzinger’s neuroethics with an ethics of The Fold. On one hand, there’s this human right to use neurotechnologies and pharmaceutical psychostimulants to tinker with the Ego Tunnel. It’s these kind of out of body experiences that Metzinger’s claims will free us from the virtual sense of self by enabling humans to look back at ourselves and see through the illusion of the cave brain. On the other hand, the ethics of The Fold suggests a more politically flattened and nonbifurcated ecological relation between organic and inorganic matter. The nightmare of the wearable micro-masses ideal you mention would, I suppose, sit more concretely in the former. Infected with this virus, we would not just look back at ourselves, but perhaps spread the politics of the Anthropocene even further into the inorganic world. In many ways, looking at the capitalist ruins in which we live in now, we perhaps already have this virus in our heads? Indeed, isn’t humanity a kind of virus in itself? Certainly, our lack of empathy for the planet we contaminate is staggering. I would tend to be far more optimistic about being in the fold since even though we still have our animal politics and Anthropocene to contend with, if we are positioned more closely in nature; that is, in the consequential decay of contaminated matter, we may, at last, share in the feeling of decay. I suppose this is again already the case. We are living in the early ruins of inorganic and organic matter right now, yet we seem to think we can rise above it. But even Ego Tunnels like Trump will eventually find themselves rotting in the ruins.

1) Tony D Sampson and Jussi Parikka, “Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise 1 and Small Worlds of Infection” in The Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics, Hartley, Burgess and Bruns (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
2) Whitehead cited in Dewey, J “The Philosophy of Whitehead” in Schilpp, P.A (ed.) The Philosophy 2 of Alfred North Whitehead. Tutor Publishing Company, New York, 1951.

Dr. Tony D. Sampson is currently reader in digital media cultures and communication at the University of East London. 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, Dec 2016) and Affect and Social Media, coedited with Darren Ellis and Stephen Maddison (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018).

Tony is the organizer of the Affect and Social Media conferences, a co-founder of Club Critical Theory in Southend, Essex and Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL.

Current research explores a wide range of digital media culture related interests, specializing in social media, virality (socio-digital contagion), marketing power, network models,  pass-on-power, the convergence between experience (UX) design and marketing, assemblage and affect theory, critical human computer interaction (c-HCI), digital activism and neuroculture (e.g. neuromarketing, neuroeconomics and neuroaesthetics). Tony has published his work internationally in peer reviewed academic books and journals. He has also appeared as a keynote, plenary speaker, invited guest and presenter at international scholarly events.

Tony’s new book, The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (Minnesota University Press, Dec 2016),  develops a radical critical theory of sense making exploring the “interferences” between the neurosciences, philosophy, art and capitalism.

Graphics by Francesco Tacchini and Dorota Piekorz

Damasio does neuromarketing…

This post isn’t intended as a plug for the Neuromarketing World Forum 2014 in New York. Readers familiar with this blog might however be interested in the list of speakers, most notably the keynote, Antonio Damasio, appearing with other neuroscience and psychology experts, alongside marketing, banking and sales people.

The Speakers of the Neuromarketing World Forum 2014:

Antonio Damasio – University of Southern California

Antonio Damasio is a Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California where he also heads the Brain and Creativity Institute. He is the author of several books describing his scientific thinking. As a leading neuroscientist, Damasio has dared to speculate on neurobiological data, and has offered a theory about the relationship between human emotions, human rationality, and the underlying biology. Read More »

Carl D. Marci – Innerscope Research

Dr. Carl D. Marci is co-founder, Chairman and Chief Science Officer Chief Science Officer of Innerscope Research. Dr. Marci is on faculty at Harvard Medical School and is both the former Director of Social Neuroscience at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a past Visiting Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Program in Media Arts & Sciences. Read More »

Horst Stipp – ARF (Advertising Research Foundation)

After a long career in the Research department of NBC Universal in New York, Horst Stipp joined The Advertising Research Foundation as EVP Global Business Strategy in January 2011. He is now EVP, Global and Ad Effectiveness in the ARF’s Research & Innovation group. Read More »

Read Montague – Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Read Montague is a Professor, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the Director, Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and author of the book Your Brain Is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions Read More »

Ale Smidts – Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Ale Smidts is a professor of marketing research and chair of the Department of Marketing Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). He is director of RSM’s Erasmus Center for Neuroeconomics and the former dean of RSM Reserach (2004-2011). His current research focus is decision neuroscience and neuromarketing, including the neural processes underlying consumer decision making and social influence. Read More »

Andrew Baron – University of British Columbia

Dr. Baron is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and an affiliate at the National Core for Neuroethics at UBC. He received his AM and PhD in Psychology from Harvard University and was recently chosen as a 2013-2014 Rising Star in the field by the Association for Psychological Science for his experimental work. Read More »

Angelika Dimoka – Temple University

Angelika Dimoka is an Associate Professor and joined the Temple faculty in 2008 with a dual appointment in Business and Engineering. Dimoka earned her PhD degree in Biomedical Engineering with emphasis in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California and engages in cutting-edge research on Decision Neuroscience. Read More »

Abigail Rendin – Olson Zaltman Associates

Abigail seeks, cultivates and applies innovative research methodologies that leverage how the mind works to develop insights for clients. She has helped Fortune 500 companies including Kimberly-Clark, Chase, YUM!, SAB Miller, Pfizer and Microsoft to identify and translate deep actionable insights into profitable positioning, branding, communication and innovation strategies. Read More »

Bernd Weber – Centre for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn

Dr. Weber is a professor of cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging at the University of Bonn and one of the directors of the Center for Economics and Neuroscience. Since 2011 he has been serving as editor-in-chief – together with Daniel Houser from George Mason University in DC, USA – of the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics, the only journal specifically devoted to the field of neuroeconomics. Read More »

Caroline Winnett – BrandNeuro

Caroline is an entrepreneur with deep experience in neuromarketing, branding, and startup launch and strategy. Caroline co-founded the pioneer company in the neuromarketing industry, NeuroFocus, which was acquired by Nielsen in 2011. She is currently on the Advisory Board for five startups in Silicon Valley. Read More »

Chip Walker – Young & Rubicam

Chip Walker is a brand, business and cultural strategist who has spent his career at some of Madison Avenue’s legendary agencies. He’s led the strategy function at brand agencies (BBDO, Y&R), a marketing services agency (Wunderman) and at a digital/social agency (StrawberryFrog), giving him a truly multi-disciplinary perspective. Read More »

Christophe Morin – SalesBrain

Christophe Morin is the CEO at SalesBrain, a neuromarketing agency created in 2002 with several offices in the USA and full service offices in Italy, France, UK and Spain. With over 30 years of consumer research experience, Christophe’s passion has always been to understand and predict consumer behavior. Read More »

Daniel B. Yarosh – Estee Lauder Companies

Daniel B. Yarosh, PhD, is Senior Vice President, Basic Science Research, and is responsible for the worldwide basic research of the Estee Lauder Companies. He supervises labs focused on biology, biochemistry, botanicals, physics, optics, imaging, skin physiology and clinical testing in 5 global sites. Read More »

Elissa Moses – Ipsos

Elissa Moses is Executive Vice President, Neuromarketing and Emotion at IPSOS, one of the top three largest global market research companies. There she enjoys an agnostic role as innovator and provider of NeuroMetrics to better understand consumer emotion and behavior. Read More »

Graham Page – Millward Brown

Graham is Executive Vice President, Consumer Neuroscience, at Millward Brown. Graham pioneered the integration of biometric and behavioral measures to mainstream brand and advertising research. In 2010 he founded the company’s Consumer Neuroscience Practice, a business tasked with the integration of methods and findings from cognitive science into Millward Brown’s global offer. Read More »

Kyle Nel – Lowe’s Home Improvement

Kyle Nel is the Director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. Kyle brings to Lowe’s experience in shopper insights, having come from Walmart’s Global Insights group. He also has a strong background in media and advertising after serving as research director for Clear Channel Radio. Read More »

Leon Zurawicki – Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Massachusetts-Boston

Leon Zurawicki is Professor, Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. His main areas of research center on the application of neuroscience to the study of consumer behavior. Read More »

Martin de Munnik – Neurensics

Martin de Munnik has a background as VP and CEO of several of the finest Dutch advertising agencies and a recent job as Managing Partner in Neurensics. His education and experience as marketeer makes him the logical ‘other half’ of a neuromarketing association. Presently, his tasks include all commercial activities such as sales, marketing and communication of the neuromarketing agency Neurensics. Read More »

Mathieu Bertin – Synergy Marketing, Inc.

Mathieu Bertin is a senior researcher and marketing consultant at Synergy Marketing, Japan. He holds a master in artificial intelligence and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the UPMC University in Paris. His work focuses on exploring the applications of cutting-edge technologies, including brain science, advanced analytics and psychographics based modeling, to the field of marketing. Read More »

Mihkel Jäätma – Realeyes

Mihkel is the CEO of Realeyes. Since co-founding Realeyes during his MBA studies at Oxford University, Mihkel secured multi-million global partnerships with the most demanding clients in marketing and built Realeyes into technology leader in webcam-based emotion measurement. Read More »

Peter Leimbach – FOX Sports

Peter Leimbach was appointed Vice President of Sales Research with FOX Sports in November of 2012. He provides the FOX Sportsad sales team with research that offers strategic insight into sports fans’ television viewing habits and consumer behavior for key properties including the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, college football and basketball, UFC and soccer. Read More »

Phil Barden – Decode Marketing Ltd

After 16 years with Unilever he worked at Diageo and T-Mobile. As Brand VP, responsible for T-Mobile’s re-positioning and development around Europe, he became a client of Decode Marketing consultancy and first encountered ‘decision science‘. This epiphanal moment led him to set up Decode Marketing in the UK. Read More »

Pranav Yadav – Neuro-Insight, Inc.

Pranav Yadav, CEO of Neuro-Insight U.S., is an international innovation evangelist and thought leader dedicated to changing how brands and customers communicate. By using the passive, granular insights of neuromarketing, Pranav helps advertisers and media companies make the most compelling connections between product, communication, context and consumer. Read More »

Rafal Ohme – NEUROHM

Rafał Ohme is a professor of psychology, expert in persuasion and unconscious processes. In 1995-1996 he held the Fulbright Scholarship at Kellogg School of Management where he learned advertising. From 1996 on he visited Department of Psychology at Stanford University, and researched unconscious processing and emotions. Read More »

Rana el Kaliouby – Affectiva

Rana el Kaliouby is the Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of Affectiva, the global leader in emotion measurement technology. While working as a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) she invented the award-winning video-based facial expression recognition technology, today known as Affdex. Read More »

Richard Silberstein – Neuro-Insight

Professor Silberstein has over 30 years of neuroscience research experience and is the originator of SST brain imaging technology. He is President of the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association and Chairman of Neuro-Insight Pty Ltd. Read More »

Russell Winer – Stern School of Business, New York University

Russell S. Winer is the William Joyce Professor and Chair of the Department of Marketing at the Stern School of Business, New York University. He received a B.A. in Economics from Union College and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial Administration from Carnegie Mellon University. Read More »

Samira Khamlichi – Wafacash

Samira Khamlichi is since 2006 to date, General Manager of Wafacash, subsidiary of Attijariwafa bank, First Financial and Bank Group in North Africa. Before joining Attijariwafa bank, Samira Khamlichi was Marketing and Communication Director and also Business Development Director in Credit du Maroc. Read More »

Steve Genco – Intuitive Consumer Insights LLC

Steve Genco is a leading neuromarketing writer, speaker, and consultant. He is co-author of Neuromarketing for Dummies (Wiley, 2013), a comprehensive overview of neuromarketing science, applications, methodologies, and ethics. Read More »

Stephanie Fried – Discovery Communications

Stephanie Fried is Vice President, Digital Insights & Marketing within Discovery Communications’ Digital Media group. In this capacity Fried oversees the development of data-driven strategies to grow and optimize Discovery’s digital properties. Fried’s team also supports Discovery’s advertiser partners, providing cross-platform insights and innovations in campaign measurement. Read More »

Steven Sands – Sands Research

Dr. Sands is the Chairman, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer for Sands Research Inc.Through his research, SRI has become a recognized pioneer and leader in the application of neuroscience in the field of market research. Read More »

Thomas Ramsøy – Copenhagen Business School, Neurons Inc.

Thomas Ramsøy is considered of the leading experts on neuromarketing and consumer neuroscience, and he is an innovator by heart. With training in both economics and neuropsychology, he holds a PhD in neurobiology from the University of Copenhagen. He currently leads the Center for Decision Neuroscience at the Copenhagen Business School. Ramsøy is also the founder and CEO of Neurons Inc. Read More »

Tomasz Marszałł – PKO Bank Polski

Tomasz Marszałł is Chief Marketing Officer in PKO Bank Polski (biggest bank in Poland) since 2010. He took up the challenge of refreshing the Bank’s image. He is the winner of the Grand Prix prize in the Marketing Executives Competition 2011, which is granted yearly on Mediarun Festival to the most innovative and creative marketing manager in the Polish market. Read More »

Gemma Calvert – Neurosence

Gemma Calvert is the Founder of Neurosense Limited, one of the world’s longest established Applied Neuroscience and Neuromarketing companies, and visiting professor at the Nanyang Business School, NTU, Singapore and Fellow of the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight. Her research expertise spans the fields of consumer neuroscience, functional human brain imaging and behavioural psychology. Read More »

Mirjam Broekhoff – Neuromarketing Theory & Practice

Mirjam Broekhoff is the Editor-in-Chief of Neuromarketing Theory & Practice, Neuromarketing Science & Business Administration’s magazine. Read More »

Carla Nagel – Neuromarketing Science & Business Association

Carla Nagel is an enthousiastic and strategic organizer and manager. As a founder and director of the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association she stands for an open debate about the field of neuromarketing as well as sharing knowledge around the globe. Together with an elected board of directors and enthousiastic team of specialists she is motivated to push the field of neuromarketing to a higher level of professionalism. Read More »

The spread of dystopian neurocultures

Interesting to see this “Map of Neuromarketing Companies” published on the neurorelay website. (http://neurorelay.com/)

A good point perhaps at which to very briefly introduce some early thoughts on the spread of a dystopian neuroculture and its relation to Deleuze’s control society.

The Dystopia of Noncognitive Control


Mad Men

Like so many other popular journalistic portrayals of neuromarketing an article published in The New York Times in 2008 titled “Is the Ad a Success? The Brain Waves Tell All” is in seemingly incontestable awe of the claims that unconscious consumption can be measured directly at the brain. “Never mind brainstorms. These days, Madison Avenue is all about brain waves.” In all fairness, the article does at first strike a note of caution by recognizing that “some consumer advocates question the role of biometrics in ad research.” It partially acknowledges, as such, concerns over what it calls a “blending” of Weird Science and Mad Men, which “will give marketers an unfair advantage over consumers.” But these concerns are summarily dismissed; not least because the passionate adoption of biometrics and brain imaging technology by marketers is a logical response, they claim, to the slowing of the US economy after the banking collapse in 2008. Since neuromarketers are only really interested in how people feel and react in these difficult financial times there should be little cause for concern. As one marketing representative puts it, neuromarketing does not aim to “meddle with normal, natural response mechanisms.” It is just interested in what consumers are paying attention to. This is after all an attention economy in which the drivers of focused mental engagement are at a premium. Robert E. Knight, the director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California (a chief science adviser to a Berkeley based neuromarketing company) says “[w]e’re not trying to predict an individual’s thoughts and actions… [or] trying to input messages.” There are no electrodes fed directly into the brain. Participants are willingly rigged up to noninvasive brain imaging technologies, galvanic skin response devices and eye tracking software. These tests are generally carried out in the very early stages of product research and development so that brands can be readily primed for consumption. So in many ways there is nothing new here. The goal of market research has not changed. It has always sought to attract attention by conditioning and anticipating consumer experiences in advance with the intention of seducing and guiding intent by mostly subconscious means. The difference today is, however, that the data captured from these experiences purportedly comes directly from cognitive and noncognitive registers in the brain. As a result, the capture of anticipation becomes a series of correlative cognitive and affective triggering exercises quite often spanning the lifetime of a brand. This is how the Mad Men of neuroculture claim to be able get inside the buying brain and guide it, often unconsciously, toward purchase intent.

As uncritical and overhyped as it maybe, popular media discourse surrounding neuromarketing point to something both familiar and unfamiliar about the kinds of control circuits and technologies of power consumer societies are subjected to in the 21st century. On one hand, neuromarketing is endemic to a recognizable trajectory of marketing power that has, in the past, sought to capture the attention of a population confined to their living rooms via mass media television channels. However, today, the aim is, it seems, to adapt to networked, mobile media so as to expand marketing control. Of course, this kind of control needs to be grasped in contrast to the violence of sovereign control. It is a power that does not need to be physically administered, inherited or possessed, but rather becomes furtively distributed through a population. Similarly, in contrast to the disciplinary architectures of enclosure found in Foucault’s factories, prisons, schools, clinics etc.; control has become an open modulating force, which can change from point to point and from one moment to the next. There has in fact been a deepening of this post WW2 power distribution in terms of marketing. In comparison to the Mad Men of the mid twentieth century, for example, who reached out directly to the masses via the broadcast media; marketing power today is increasingly indirect. On the other hand, what I suggest here is that the neuromarketer endeavours to expand networked power far beyond the usual reach of mediated communication. Via mobile and ubiquitous network technologies marketing has not only been able to connect to the masses at an interpersonal level, but it has also drilled down into infrapersonal communication flows; tapping into cognitive and affective transmissions emitted by what we might call the networked dividual; that is to say, the endlessly divisible body; brain, neuron, neurochemical substances, molecules, atoms, and the infinitely small society of the monad. This is a point where the digital network intersects with the neuronal network. Moreover, neuromarketing is a technology of power intended to control thought noninvasively. This is no Orwellian dystopia. There is certainly no need for Cold War style electrodes to be directly fed into the brain since the soft controls of the dystopian imagination of William Burroughs and Aldous Huxley have been provided with a neuroscientific universe in which to live. Control today is therefore difficult to pin down. There are no wires. Control has become much softer, and, as such, more difficult to escape. Premediated persuasion, anticipatory reward systems, and brain absorption become the watchwords of an all pervasive neuromarketing. It is, as a consequence, imperative that those who enter into this neurocentric world of shadows do so with (a) a sense of how the present appears to be mapped onto these dystopian imaginations, and (b) an escape plan.

(Draft excerpt from forthcoming book: Brain: Rethinking Nomadic Thought in Times of Neuroculture. Illustration by Dorota Piekorz)

Public Sphere, Crowd Sentiments and the Brain

A Public Lecture Series at Copenhagen Business School
Sponsored by the Public-Private Research Platform

See event Poster

Recent discussions in both strategic management and critical
management studies have hailed the coming of a new era of
democratized forms of the co-creation of value within business
systems, an era of democratic participation of consumers and
citizens as professional consumers (‘prosumers’) and co-creators
of innovation. Behind this reassessment of value-creation
structures lies the justified frustration with contemporary
forms of capitalism and its lack of attention to social justice
and environmental sustainability. Many contributors to these
debates, like Eric von Hippel, Adam Arvidsson, C. K. Prahalad,
and Russell L. Ackoff, suggest that the restructuring of capitalism
around modes of public deliberation stands a higher chance
of meeting future needs for more sustainable, responsive, flexible,
and globally inclusive forms of economic organizing.
Curiously, these visions rely on the notion of ‘productive publics’
and ‘productive collectives’ in the form of actual and virtual
crowds. The production of an open-access software, the
targeting of a misbehaving corporation through a Facebook
campaign, and the emergence of a crowd-sourced service or
product through the interaction between firms and twitterand
wiki-communities all have in common the assumption that
there exists what James Surowiecki has called the ‘wisdom of
the crowds’.

The remarkable return of ‘the crowd’ and its wise foolishness
is the subject of this public lecture series which aims to bring
together researchers and activist to discuss the themes of
public sphere, crowd behaviour, economic organizing, and recent
advances in neuroeconomic and neuromarketing research.
The lecture series aims at widening the conversation about
how much crowd psychology there is in current neuroeconomic
and neuromarketing research, and what the return of fin-desiècle
crowd psychology means for the ontology, methodology
and axiology of theorizing in contemporary management and
organization research. In the same vein, our guest lecturers
will raise the question whether the rapidly growing interest in
neuroscientific methods in economics, marketing and management
might provide the stimulus for the integration of social
and natural sciences.


14 March, 12.30-2pm, Porcelaenshaven 18B, Room 3.135
Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy, Copenhagen Business School
‘Neuromarketing: What’s All the Noise About?’
Thomas is Group Leader of the Decision Neuroscience Research
Group at the Department of Marketing and senior researcher at
the Danish Research Centre for Magnetic Resonance. Amongst
his latest publications is ‘Branding the Brain: a Critical Review and
Outlook’, in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

21 March, 3-5pm, Porcelaenshaven 18B, Room S.023
Andrea Mubi-Brighenti, University of Trento
‘Social multiplicities: A Return on the Notion of Individual’
Andrea is a sociologist whose main research threads include space
and society, visibility and social theory. His latest monograph is
Visibility in Social Theory and Social Research (Palgrave Macmillan,
2010). He is co-editor of the ethnography journal Etnografia e
Ricerca Qualitativa and editor of a collection of articles on The Wall
and the City (Professional Dreamers, 2009).

11 April, 3-5pm, Porcelaenshaven 18B, Room 3.135
Tony Sampson, University of East London
‘Putting the Neuro Doctrine to Work’
Tony is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Arts and Digital Industries,
University of East London. Tony researches social contagion
in electronic media, and he is the co-editor (with Jussi Parikka) of
Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, and Other Anomalies from the Dark
Side of Digital Culture (Hampton Press, 2009). His latest book is
Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of
Minnesota Press, 2012.).

18 April, 3-5pm, Porcelaenshaven 18B, Room 3.135
Tanja Schneider, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
‘Neuroscience beyond the Laboratory: the Commercialization of
Neuroscientific Knowledges and Technologies’
Tanja Schneider is a Research Fellow in Science and Technology
Studies. Her areas of expertise include social studies of markets
and marketing, media and consumer culture as well as the politics
and practices of food governance. Among her latest publications is
‘Technologies of Ironic Revelation: Enacting Consumers in Neuromarkets’
in Consumption, Markets and Culture.

REGISTRATION: publicprivateplatform@cbs.dk

Christian Borch (cbo.lpf@cbs.dk), Associate Professor at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy.
Porcelaenshaven 18B, DK-2000 Frederiksberg.
Thomas Z. Ramsøy (tzr.marktg@cbs.dk), Head of the Decision Neuroscience Research Group at the Department
of Marketing, Solbjerg Plads 3C, DK-2000 Frederiksberg.

Talks on Virality (part four)

(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?



Images from Virality – future project with artists at UEL

As part of a potential joint project between authors and artists at UEL (intended to explore how the concepts in a book like Virality might be morphed into media other than a book, or how the material below might be rematerialized) I’m posting images from the book along with some context (includes some images that never made it through the final edit).

Resuscitating Tarde’s Diagram in the Age of Networks
Virality begins with an interpretation of the foundational sociological ideas Gabriel Tarde forwarded in three key texts: Social Laws, The Laws of Imitation, and Psychological Economy. These books introduced a complex series of interwoven microrelations, the diagram of which provides a novel alternative to dominant micro- and macroreductionisms so often attributed to social, cultural, and economic relationality. The aim here is to disentangle Tarde from Durkheim’s collective consciousness and unravel contested claims that try to make him a forefather of both memetics and actor network theory. Virality instead aligns Tarde to Deleuzian assemblage theory, connects him to a disparate series of past and present contagion theories.

These include approaches to imitation and conformity, crowd manias, and contemporary perspectives drawn from cognitive neuroscience and the theory of affect. By breathing new life into these microrelations, Virality intends to further connect Tarde to present-day network ontology.

What Spreads? From Memes and Crowds to the Phantom Events of Desire and Belief

The Virality of the LG15 YouTube videos. A so-called Internet meme
Virality focuses on various aspects of Obama love. Photo by Jeff Ellis, Photoshopped by the author

What spreads through a social network is all too often attributed to two largely uncontested logics of resemblance and repetition. First, cultural contagion is assumed to correspond to a distinctive biologically determined unit of imitation (the meme). This is unquestionably a mechanistic virality analogically compared to the canonical imprint of genetic code. Second, what spreads is said to occur in a representational space of collective contamination in which individual persons who become part of a crowd tend toward thinking in the same mental images (real and imagined). Like this, the reasoned individual is seemingly overpowered by a neurotic mental state of unity unique to the crowd, which renders subjectivity vulnerable to further symbolic contagious encounters and entrainments.

Milgram’s Manhattan Experiment

A big influence on Virality, although not entirely aligned to Tarde’s diagrams, it must be added, is Milgram’s Manhattan experiment. Nearly eighty years after Tarde’s ruminations about the society of imitation, a research team headed by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram set up an experiment intended to better understand how social influence spreads through the urban crowd. Mirroring to some extent Tarde’s late-nineteenth-century interest in how imitative contagions propagate through social collectives mostly unawares, Milgram’s experiment in 1968 was designed to stimulate the imitative behaviors of individuals as they encountered a crowd. To begin with, an actor was planted on a busy Manhattan street corner and told to look up at a tall building while the researchers observed the actions of unwitting passers-by. A few of the passers-by noticed and looked up too. However, Milgram then increased the number of skyward looking actors to five.

Stanley Milgram’s skywards pointing people (as carried out by our new media students at UEL) provides an interesting example of the contagiousness of phantoms (Photo by Jeff Ellis)

The idea was to gauge how this increase in stimulus would influence the decisionmaking processes of the urbanite passers-by and to record how many more of them would subsequently imitate the skyward looking crowd. In the first test, 20 percent of the passers-by looked up, but when five actors appeared on the street corner, the number apparently jumped to 80 percent. From these results, Milgram deduced his theory of social proof; that is, as our performance piece at UEL (image above right) shows, on encountering the crowd, the individual makes a contagious assumption based on the quantity of evidence that there is something worth looking up at. To put it another way, the individual’s imitation of others is largely dependent on his cognitive assessment of the magnitude of social influence.

The LG15 viral video, another example of the contagiousness of phantoms (Photo by Jeff Ellis, Photoshopped by the author)

As becomes apparent in Virality, Milgram’s impact on the new network sciences approach to contagion has been considerable.

Network scientists, like Albert-Laszlo Barabási (influenced by Milgram), have developed the scale-free network. This network model has become the favoured diagram of contagion.

Not only has his work greatly influenced the models used but his ideas figure writ large in the stress given to an individual’s instinctual tendency to herd or cascade, particularly in times of bubble building and subsequent financial crisis but also during the spreading of fashion and fads. In many of these accounts, imitative decisions (rationale or irrational) conforming to the social actions of others are assumed to be biologically hardwired into the brain, enabling a person to make snap judgments to avoid, for example, threats to her physical, emotional, or financial well-being. Notably, even when using online systems like e-mail, it is argued that “the human brain is hardwired with the proclivity to follow the lead of others.”

Barabasi describes the power law behind the scale free model like this: “If the heights of an imaginary planet’s inhabitants followed a power law distribution, most creatures would be really short. But nobody would be surprised to see occasionally a-hundred feet-tall monster in fact among six billion inhabitants there would be at least one over 8,000 feet tall.” This picture was snapped by Jussi Parikka while at a conference in Barcelona a few years back. I thought it captured something of the power law (Photoshopped by the author)

Milgram’s focus on the individual’s internal motivations guiding decision-making processes (agentic states, as he called it) clearly differs in many ways from Tarde. It is the evolutionary propensity of individuals to obey rather than to imitate that matters. He is not, as such, untypical of the cognitive turn in the twentieth century (discussed in the introduction to Virality), in this case in social psychology, in which crowd behavior was generally traced to the disposition of individuals caught up in a natural chain of command or hierarchy rather than association or disassociation. As Milgram argues, imitation leads to conformity, but obedience ultimately requires the distinct social action of the individual. Whereas crowd theory ascribed contagious affect to mania and hypnosis, the cognitive turn would contrastingly dismiss such ideas as fanciful psychologism. Nevertheless, Milgram was famously the great manipulator of the social encounter. Resembling his other famous experiments linking social conformity to authority and obedience, his triggering of crowd contagion in Manhattan was unquestionably socially engineered. He might even be considered a hypnotist of sorts, or an authentic viral marketer, insofar as he planted suggestibility, via the points of fascination provided by his skyward looking actors, into the neurological, biological, and sociological composition of the crowd. From this privileged position, Milgram not only observed but also controlled the involuntary, semiconscious, and imitative responses his experiment induced.

Two Stratagems of Virality (borrowing approach from Evil Media)

Stratagem 1: Immunologic

The immunologic stratagem has two parts. The first is explained here by way of registering the efforts made by the antivirus (AV) industry to counter the computer virus writing scene (VX). Both AV and VX have been complicit in a discursive and prediscursive immunological conflict that associates digital contagion with anxieties concerning biological contamination. This decidedly asymmetrical conflict involves the stirring up of a kind of misotramontanism (a fear of the other) that is endemic to an entrepreneurial endeavor to sell more security via appeals to insecurity as well as being inserted into the materiality of AV software systems. Indeed, immunological conflict is more than a rhetorical war of words intended to “legitimize” the immunity (and integrity) of a discursively designated self pitted against a hostile nonself. It also features in the software infrastructures that organize the network space. Clearly language plays a major role. As Sean Cubitt eloquently puts it, the “metaphor of contagion is at once to presume the integrity of the cell” and therefore legitimatize “a counter-attack based on maintaining that integrity and limiting, if not destroying, the virus’s ability to mutate.” Nonetheless, these linguistic associations have become more concretely embedded in the logic of future network conflict. The persuasive force of this logic is not fixed or limited by linguistic representations but is transformed by the discursive events of language that order the contents of the assemblages to which they relate. Unlike a linguistic representation, then, the immunological binaries of self and nonself operate as an incorporeal transformation via expressions “inserted into” contents, that is, not represented but delimited, anticipated, moved back, slowed down or sped up, separated or combined. As follows, the second part of the immunologic stratagem cunningly positions a wide range of new network threats at the center of further anxieties concerning the lack of an assignable enemy.

Like the War on Viruses, then, the deceptions of the War on Terror exemplify how the heightening of fears associated with a transmittable and infectious unknown enemy becomes endemic to the subterfuge of a progressively more indiscriminate network security paradigm.

Stratagem 2: Viral Love

Tarde clearly regarded love as a powerful political concept. In fact, in his science fiction–climate disaster novel Underground Man, published in 1905, he 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. 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 becomes a major force of social power. Love becomes the very air that the Underground Man breathes. Not surprisingly, perhaps, humans soon become embroiled in a bloody conflict for this precious recourse. 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 war.

Obama love spreads via Facebook

It is also endemic to the “extra-logical” influences that underpin the laws of imitation, and by pointing to the desire to love as central to the exercise of power, Tarde similarly raises some very interesting 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 hand, a love that controls. There is “nothing more natural,” Tarde states, “than that those who love each other should copy each other,” but love-imitation is a distinctly asymmetrical relation insofar as it is the lover who by and large copies the beloved.

Obama Love

In contrast to the microbial contagions of the neo-Cons, and their appeal to the political unconscious through the cold, emotionless channels of advisors like Cheney and the fearmongering of Rumsfeld, Obama’s campaign of hope and change managed to empathically tap into the infectable emotions of many U.S. voters. Indeed, empathy became the political tool of choice—a response to Bush’s failure to connect with the public mood, particularly after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. But Obama-love was also a contagion befitting the age of networks: the political shift in power from the G. W. Bush administration’s spreading of fear via the repeated use of TV images of 9/11 to Obama’s election campaign of hope and change propagated via Facebook and Flickr photos.

Tardean Hypnosis: Capture and Escape in the Age of Contagion

Neuropersuasion and Noncognitive Capitalism

An eye tracking heat map capturing the attention (or distractions) of the consumer (image by the author)

The force of imitative encounter is a difficult event to grasp insofar as it is by and large insubstantial. The imitative ray is indeed a constituent of “unknown and unknowable . . . universal repetitions.” This is because a social contagion has a subrepresentational affective charge that seems to pass through social atmospheres, entering into the biology of the contaminated body via the skin before it triggers social actions, emotions, and thoughts. The organizing principle (if that is the right word to use) of affective contagion is after all its deterritorialized flow and the capacity of that flow to contaminate whatever it comes into contact with. But what matters to the marketer today does not necessarily need to have a substance to persuade. Although imitation-suggestibility is, it would seem, without a body, the intensity of its flow is not entirely untraceable or, indeed, immeasurable. Technological innovations have allowed business enterprises to detect flows of influence at the surface of the skin and regions of the brain even before a decision is made. As follows, the Tardean trajectory becomes traceable in the efforts marketers make to tap into the affective absorbency a consumer has to imitation-suggestibility. For example, so-called neuromarketers are deploying a combination of eye tracking, galvanic skin response (GSR), and electroencephalography (EEG) to develop new methods of persuasion. These practices map out correlations between what draws a consumer’s spontaneous attention and changes in skin conductance and brain activity linked to inferred emotional states to better prime a “propensity to buy.” This is a deeper intensification of the technological unconscious currently entering into the realm of neuropersuasion, where the pretesting of involuntary and spontaneous consumption helps to ensure that marketing messages move more rapidly to memory, without the need for costly posttest surveys. Of course, this technoexpansion into neurological unconsciousness raises big ethical questions concerning social power. Indeed, the technologies used to tap into the visceral relations consumers have with brands and products intervene in a seemingly entrenched ocularcentric Western paradigm. The pure reason of Enlightenment Man, linked as he so often is to a visual bias, representational objectivity, and the exclusion of subjective affect, comes into direct conflict with the idea that irreducible subrepresentational flows might actually have a mind of their own. There is nothing new in such a challenge. The notion of an unaffected ocularcentric reason has already been confronted by questions concerning the problematic distancing function the visual system establishes between subject and object, and here I similarly approach problems relating to the pureness of the objective pathway that is assumed to relate objects to eyes and minds.

Bird Brains

The below is taken from an article to be published in Distinktion in December. It not only links nicely with the cover (an accident), but it points toward my next project concerning neuroculture.

Tarde’s society of imitation has multiple territorial arrangements which can be understood through the Deleuzo-Guattarian conceptions of refrains and lines of flight. As a pianist Guattari grasped how the rhythm of a ritornello composes the time and space in which music is played (Dosse, 2010, 253). How the return to a repeated theme brings together the singularities of an improvisation and the repetition of imitation brings unity to composition. Like Guattari, Tarde used the example of birdsong refrains to think through how species produce territorial unity.

Cover Design by Martyn Schmoll

The memetic bird is generally understood to imitate the song of their mothers, and others in their specie line, so as to delineate territorial boundaries. However, territorial unity is complicated by what appears to be the many examples of cross-kingdom imitation. As Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 302) suggest, the ‘labor of the refrain’ can be used for ‘very subtle deterritorializations.’ It does not remain territorial, but ‘selective lines of flight’ transverse ‘across all coordinates—and all of the intermediaries between the two,’ before lapsing back into the refrain. Quite unlike memetic birdsong which requires a particular species to learn an exact copy of a catchy song before passing it down the hereditary line, the Tardean bird reaches out and borrows from an arrangement of interconnecting lines of communication. Like Proust’s fat bumble bee fertilizing the orchid, the social reaches outside the species line to borrow the desires and inventions of others. Tarde in fact refers to a ‘deep-seated desire to imitate for the sake of imitation,’ noting how ‘[a] mocking-bird can imitate a cock’s crow so accurately that the very hens are deceived’ (Tarde 1903, 67). Imitative birdsong, as Guattari similarly argues, becomes an unintentional occupation of frequencies (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 331). The more birds, the more the species lines get crossed, and the more lines of communication get crossed, the more the refrains are exposed to the outside. The social relation becomes a multiplicity ‘defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 9). The occupation becomes inseparable from the decomposing lines of flight that lead to other assemblages, producing an intermixing of birdsong. Think of it as a remixing or scrambling of codes which can lapse back into the refrain, disrupt its repetition, before becoming a new line of flight.

While memetics would perhaps render all endeavours made by animals to be social in the human world abortive due to their failure to evolve imitation into developed cognitive capacities lie language, Tarde contends that every animal, like every human ‘reaches out’ to the social life to satisfy their innate capacity to imitate (Tarde 1903, 67). This is Tarde’s ‘sine qua non of mental development,’ a precondition of all social life which predates language (Tarde 1903, 67). As he puts it, ‘[t]he adaptive capacity of cerebral functions, the mind, is distinguished from other functions in not being a simple adaptation of definite means to definite ends.’ (Tarde 1903, 67) The adaptive mind is ‘indeterminate’ and depends more or less on the chance ‘imitation of outside things’ (Tarde 1903, 67).  Prior to a late twentieth century neuroscientific understanding of a hardwired imitative capacity which may have evolved initially to help animals improve physical movements and eventually became available for more complex functions like language, Tarde located the social mind in an ‘infinite outside’ or ‘outer world’ of imitation-repetition (Tarde 1903, 67). Mutual examples are not simply imitated by way of top down, internalized cognitive processes of the mind, but also filter through the noncognitive sharing of feelings, sensations and emotions. These are reciprocated magnetisms that form part of a ‘universal nature’ – a ‘continual and irresistible action by suggestion upon the… brain and muscular system,’ (Tarde 1903, 67) which spreads through the social environment.

Putting the Neuron to Work: 4 of 4

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.

Putting the Neuron to Work: 3 of 4

Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.

3 of 4

Legitimate Practices.

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?)

Putting the Neuron to Work: 2 of 4

2 of 4

Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.

Question Two: What kind of subjectivity does the exploitation of the neurological unconscious suggest?

There is also a question posed from within social and cultural theory itself concerning what kind of subjectivity the exploitation of the neurological unconscious suggests. It was recently pointed out to me that my approach is bordering on humanism. To be sure, it does feature a concern for human values. My work does not however put the human subject at the centre (or atop) of its method, and neither does the Tardean approach I adopt in Virality. The subjectivities he deals with are not unbendingly human: understood as individual or collective representations. On the contrary, Tarde’s society of imitation features a distinctly subrepresentational subjectivation, that is, he presents an assemblage theory of society in which it is the infra-radiations of micro imitation that compose social wholes. Following Deleuzian jargon then, we might say that it is the most deterritorialized aspects of Tarde’s assemblage that takes control of the most territorialized strata. It is the microrelation that takes control of the whole. Indeed, the neuron is but part of the ecology or “society” of things the human assemblage becomes related to (animal societies, societies of dust, societies of events etc).

What is interesting about neuropersuasion in this context is that while it appears that a mostly unconscious human has very little control over a firing neuron, intervention into the design and production of preprimed human experiences can, potentially, bring that firing under some level of control. Perhaps explaining how subliminal advertising actually works (Thrift, 2009: 22).

Putting the Neuron to Work 1 of 4

1 of 4

Two Questions Concerning Legitimate Practices and Subjectivation in Neuropersuasion.

Question One: What is, and what isn’t, considered a legitimate partnership between the business enterprise and brain science.

Toward the latter part of Virality I begin to follow Tarde’s microsociological trajectory into present-day consumerist models of society. I am interested in how the once over hyped ambitions of viral marketing are perhaps more successfully achieved through so-called neuromarketing practices. Forget the power of the meme as a malleable unit of imitation able to spread itself through a population of consumers, indeed, forgot the meme’s neo-Darwinian theoretical underpinning (more on that in the book). Tardean virality is better realized, it would seem, in the practices of the neuromarketer, that is, practices informed by neuroscience and cognitive psychology which probe the neurological unconscious and tap into the volatility of the relation established between emotions, affect and cognition. Following on from contributions in the field of affect research from Antonio Damasio, and to some extent, Robert Zajonc, what is established here, in a nutshell, is that affect and emotions are not independent of, or interfering in, rationale cognitive process. They are instead enmeshed in the very networks that lead to reflective thoughts and decisions. Zajonc goes as far to say that affect and feelings may in fact have a mind of their own which bypasses cognitive processes altogether.

It is this type of thinking that supports the claims made by the neuromarketing enterprise. Watch this video from the company Neurofocus.

So as to understand consumer behaviour these neuroscience-PhDs-turned-marketers triangulate the consumer experience in terms of attention, emotions and memory. Their research intends to (a) grab the ever thinning slice of consumer attention, (b) stimulate the senses and emotional responses to brands and products, and (c) move marketing messages straight to memory in order to trigger decisions. These are their claims further supported by research into attention deficit and obsessive compulsive disorders, manias and Alzheimer disease.

I think Tarde would take a rather disdainful view on this incursion into the brain of the consumer. Similarly, my approach here is not intended as a guide to the potential of future marketing success. It is a social and cultural theory of epidemic spreading which encompasses the contagions of affects, feelings and emotions. It is supposed to adopt a critical distance between itself and the claims of mememarketers and neuromarketers. It is not the case however that all of academia keeps its distance. Indeed, there are lines of defence already being drawn up by those neuroscience departments looking to justify their excursions into a business-led exploitation of medical brain science intended to sell more Cornflakes and Cadillacs. Neuromarketers are, as such, pushing ahead with research into brainwave frequencies under the logic that “in hard times ads must work harder to move the merchandise.” The discourse of the age of austerity effortlessly, it seems, oils the wheels for such commercial thinking to slide in and get a discursive grip on what is, and what isn’t, a legitimate partnership between the business enterprise and scientific research.