Tag: Sampson

Experiencing Digital Culture KCL 7th March

Experiencing Digital Culture

Anatomy Lecture Theatre

6th Floor, King’s Building, King’s College London

Strand, WC2R 2LS

7th March, 2017



Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson’s work has threaded its way through the digital cultures field by means of a series of radical interventions, drawing on such concepts as anomalies, accidents, assemblages, contagions, events, nonrepresentation, affect and neuroculture, in order to critically rethink how the power of the digital age is experienced and embodied.

In this discussion the two theorists follow some of these fibrous conceptual strands as they intersect and overlap with each other in two recent publications: the new revised edition of Parikka’s landmark Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (Peter Lang, 2016) and Sampson’s new book, The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

The discussion will be followed by a joint book launch and drinks in the Somerset Café.


Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova’s Interview on “Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century

There is a translated double interview with Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova on Rizomatika. The interview is also available and sharable in PDF format.

Previous interviews were held with: Parikka, Newman, Sampson, Choat, Toscano e Berti; and in Italian: Parikka, Newman, Sampson, Choat, Berti, Parisi & Terranova , Godani.

The final stage of the Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century project (freely published by Obsolete Capitalism and Rizomatika) is to become an e-book published in April.

More to follow…




Luciana Parisi, Italian, lives and works in London. She is Senior Lecturer in Critical Theory at Goldsmiths College, University of London (UK) where she runs the PhD program at the Centre for Cultural Studies. Her research examines the links between science and philosophy, cybernetics and information, technology and policy in order to formulate a critique of capitalism and at the same time investigate the possibility of real change. During the nineties of the last century she has been working with the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at Warwick (UK) and has written several essays in collaboration with Steve Goodman (known in the music world as dominus of dubstep as Kode9). In 2004 she published the book “Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the
Mutations of Desire” (Continuum, London, 2004), where she described the critical impasse between the notions of body, sexuality, “gender” and the current status of the studies of science and technology. Her latest work on architectural models is “Contagious Architecture. Computation, Aesthetics and Space” (MIT Press, USA, 2013).

Tiziana Terranova, Italian, lives and works in Naples. She is a contemporary researcher, and lecturer of ” Cultural Studies and Media ‘ and ‘ Cultural Theories and New Media” at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’. After graduating from the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the Department of American, Cultural and Linguistic Studies at University of Naples she continued her research on media, cultural studies and new technologies, driven by a passion for this area. The study of these issues took place in England where she achieved a master’s degree in “Communications and Technology” at Brunel University. She also achieved the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths’ College in London. In the mid 90’s Tiziana Terranova dealt with technological subcultures, cyberpunk and published one of the first doctoral thesis on the internet newsgroups and the techno culture in California. Another important experience for her intellectual journey took place in London at the Department of Cultural Studies of the University of “East London” where she founded and directed along with Helene Kennedy one of the first courses in Multimedia, starting the new university course in “Media and New Media Studies”. Her current interests include digital culture and the phenomena that develop around it. Of international importance is her book “Culture Network” published in Italy in 2006 by Il Manifesto. Her last essay entitled ‘Capitalism cognitive and neural life’ was inserted in May 2013 e.Book issue called ‘The state of technological mediation’ by Giorgio Griziotti (Special Hypermedia – Alfabeta editions).

Luciana Parisi e Tiziana Terranova: intervista a due voci su ‘Masse, potere e post-democrazia nel XXI secolo’

Intervista a due voci su temi di masse, potere, post-democrazia a Luciana Parisi e Tiziana Terranova. Intervista raccolta l’11 Dicembre 2013 dagli autori di Obsolete Capitalism (da questo punto in poi OC) e Rizomatika. Di seguito le interviste dello stesso ciclo precedentemente pubblicate in lingua inglese: Parikka, Newman, Sampson, Choat e Toscano; ed in italiano: Parikka, Newman, Sampson, Choat e Berti.
Infine è stato istituito un nuovo blog che raccoglie tutte le interviste in lingua italiana.

The Blurb for Virality the Book

ImageThe blurb for Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks

A new theory of viral relationality beyond the biological

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


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

In this thought-provoking work, Tony D. Sampson presents a contagion theory fit for the age of networks. Unlike memes and microbial contagions, Virality does not limit itself to biological analogies and medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of contagious assemblages, events, and affects. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is the way society comes together and relates.

Sampson argues that a biological understanding of contagion has been universally distributed by way of the rhetoric of fear used in the antivirus industry and other popular discourses surrounding network culture. This understanding is also detectable in concerns over too much connectivity, including problems of global financial crisis and terrorism. Sampson’s “virality” is as universal as that of the biological meme and microbe, but is not understood through representational thinking expressed in metaphors and analogies. Rather, Sampson leads us to understand contagion theory through the social relationalities first established in Gabriel Tarde’s microsociology and subsequently recognized in Gilles Deleuze’s ontological worldview.

According to Sampson, the reliance on representational thinking to explain the social behavior of networking—including that engaged in by nonhumans such as computers—allows language to over-categorize and limit analysis by imposing identities, oppositions, and resemblances on contagious phenomena. It is the power of these categories that impinges on social and cultural domains. Assemblage theory, on the other hand, is all about relationality and encounter, helping us to understand the viral as a positively sociological event, building from the molecular outward, long before it becomes biological.

Dr. Tony D. Sampson is senior lecturer and researcher in the School of Arts and Digital Industries at the University of East London.

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.

Virality Uber Alles: Universal Contagion

An interesting article exploring from a journalistic perspective “What the Fetishization of Social Media Is Costing Us All”. It makes the point that even virality has, it seems, gone viral. Social media are the obsession of the media. But the “value” of going viral doesn’t matter, as long as it’s viral! Yes, good point.In a similar way I have also questioned the value of going viral, making the point that it is indeed difficult to tell apart the medium from the virus. With a nod to McLuhan and Baudrillard (without references, it must be added).