Tag: Tarde

First copy of The Assemblage Brain arrived today!

I’m very pleased to announce that the first copy of my new book arrived in the UK today from the US. I was expecting it in early Feb, but it’s here all shiny and new!

sampsonI’ve also confirmed two book launch events.

The first launch has been added to a keynote I’m doing (along with Franco “Bifo” Berardi) at an event called What is Happening to Our Brain? Art and Life in Times of Cognitive Automation. It’s in Amsterdam on Tues 8th Feb at the Rietveld Studium Generale – and is open to the public!

The second event is in collaboration with the artists Mikey Georgeson and Dean Todd at Mikey’s The Deadends exhibit at the Studio One Gallery in South West London on Thurs 23rd Feb.

More details to follow.





Really looking forward to reading Tiziana Terranova’s ‘Attention, Economy and the Brain’ in the latest issue of Culture Machine (see link below). It looks at Tarde and the brain, and makes references to neuroscience, as do some of the posts on this blog and the latter part of Virality. This is in fact great timing as I’m currently developing new material on neuroculture and subjectification for a future book project! Some more posts will follow on this article…


edited by Patrick Crogan and Samuel Kinsley

How are the ways we understand subjective experience – not least
cognitively – being modulated by political economic rationales? And how
might artists, cultural theorists, social scientists and radical
philosophers learn to respond – analytically, creatively,
methodologically and politically – to the commodification of human
capacities of attention? This special issue of Culture Machine explores
these interlinked questions as a way of building upon and opening out
contemporary research concerning the economisation of cognitive
capacities. It proposes a contemporary critical re-focussing on the
politics, ethics and aesthetics of the ‘attention economy’, a notion
developed in the 1990s by scholars such as Jonathan Beller, Michael
Goldhaber and Georg Franck.


Patrick Crogan, Samuel Kinsley, ‘Paying Attention: Towards a Critique of
the Attention Economy’

Bernard Stiegler, ‘Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon’

Tiziana Terranova, ‘Attention, Economy and the Brain’

Jonathan Beller, ‘Wagers Within the Image: Rise of Visuality,
Transformation of Labour, Aesthetic Regimes’

Samuel Kinsley, ‘Towards Peer-to-Peer Alternatives: An Interview with
Michel Bauwens’

Sy Taffel, ‘Escaping Attention: Digital Media Hardware, Materiality and
Ecological Cost’

Ben Roberts, ‘Attention-seeking: Technics, Publics and Software

Taina Bucher, ‘A Technicity of Attention: How Software “Makes Sense”’

Martyn Thayne, ‘Friends Like Mine: The Production of Socialised
Subjectivity in the Attention Economy’

Rolien Hoyng, ‘Popping Up and Fading Out: Participatory Networks and
Istanbul’s Creative City Project’

Bjarke Liboriussen, ‘Second Life: Message (to Professionals), Attention!
Economic Bubble (to the Rest of Us)’

Bjarke Liboriussen, Ursula Plesner, ‘Current Architectural Use of
Virtual Worlds’

Ruth Catlow, ‘We Won’t Fly for Art: Media Art Ecologies’

Constance Fleuriot, ‘Avoiding Vapour Trails in the Virtual Cloud:
Developing Ethical Design Questions for Pervasive Media Producers’

Affective Contagion: Social Practices and the Problem of the Uncanny (2 of 5)

Above and Below the Threshold of Consciousness…

There are, I think, a number of problems with this notion of a thick line drawn between conscious meaning making and prediscursive forces in the social field. First, it is important to stress that nonrepresentational theory is an effort to explain how the social becomes vulnerable to forces of encounter above and below the threshold of consciousness. The aim, it seems to me, is to tackle the problem of binary thinking (line drawing) by in fact tearing down the artifice that separates these two poles. What Wetherell seems intent on doing though is maintaining this artifice. I am not at all convinced however that, as her book claims, it is discourse that carries affect. It is perhaps better to highlight how discursive formations, like those that form around marketing and network security, are intimately interwoven with prediscursive flows of contagious affects, feelings, and emotions. It is true that marketers and network security experts, for example, tap into these forces, but the identities they impose are something that always comes after the event

This is why a Tarde-Deleuzian approach has proved so valuable to rethinking contagion theory in the age of networks. Although overall categories, like crowds, clearly exist as collective representations, Tarde’s laws of imitation, like Deleuze’s assemblage theory,  concerns the relationalities that bring things together irrelevant of a given identity. As Deleuze puts it, it is “within overall categories, basic lineages, or modern institutions” that Tarde’s microrelations can be found. Indeed, “far from destroying these larger unities,” it is the microrelation that composes the unity (Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, 36).

Second, it is important to question the very idea that the uncanny presents an analytical problem. Is it really the case that the study of the uncanniness of affective contagion “blocks pragmatic approaches to affect,” as Wetherell claims (p. 21)? Like this, the metaphors of contagion explain nothing, we are told, other than a strange and unknowable force, which can be better uncovered in less mysterious ways (the trusted tools of representation). In contrast, I would forward Tarde’s work (only one mention of his name in this book which prefers to use the much easier to burn straw man of Gustave Le Bon) as a mostly pragmatic attempt to uncover an uncanny neurological tendency to imitate.

Mirror Neurons are Uncanny

Tarde’s contagion is not in fact a metaphor at all. He argued that long before language came to define human culture the prevalent social action was to imitate. Wetherell’s many references to neuroscience, and the mirror neuron hypothesis in particular, demonstrate how this uncanny inclination to imitate is already being pragmatically approached, perhaps revealing that language is simply a by-product of such an imitative inclination.

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.

The Neurological Unconscious Explained?

Here I am in UEL’s emotionUXD lab trying out a budget EEG. EEG for the masses!

I have been adapting some of the work from Virality into material relating to a critique of human computer interaction (HCI). I am particularly interested in what has been referred to as the 3rd paradigm of HCI (thanks to Matt Fuller for the prompt) and the ideas it takes from neuroscience and cognitive psychology relating to cognition and affect. My work kind of follows on from Crary’s work on attentive subjectivation. Here I’m interested in the managerial aims of HCI relating to subjectivity and workspaces. Below is a transcript (not referenced) from a recent talk I gave on this subject at the Centre for Cultural Studies Research, UEL.

A Glint in the Eye of the Consumer: From attentive subjects to neuro-consumers

My question: What are the lines of flight between the 2nd and 3rd paradigm of managerial HCI?

To answer this I will explore the blending of attentive and neurophysiological technologies

  • Relations established between attention, the eye and the mind.
  • Move from ocularcentric sciences of the mind to new ideas from neuroscience related to affect and cognition.
  • Adoption of these methods of persuasion in product design and marketing

To think through HCI and subjectivation

Using a Tardean microsociology to think through the 3rd paradigm approach to the consumer. To ask what kind of subjectivities are being made here.

A starting point…

The Three Paradigms of HCI (greatly adapted from the work of Harrison, Senger and Tatar

HCI Paradigm Workspace Organization Managerial aims Subjectivation Methods
Ergonomic(engineering and early comp science) Explicitly Taylorist The most efficient fit between human and machine (coupling) Cog in a Wheel •Testing•Behavioural•Empirical•Atheoretical
Cognitive(cognitive turn) Management of cognition How to get often distracted users to pay attention and guide conscious decision-making processes. Management of perception, attention, memory and action (decisions) Cognitive/Attentive Subject •Testing of concepts•Mental models, cognitive walkthroughs etc.•Task orientated usability testing.•Time spent on task, errors made.
Experience?(pervasive computing – – ideas from neuroscience) Ubiquitous computing (“Everyware”). Management of emotional, affective, neurological, and noncognitive interactions. The Neuro-Consumer (the consumer’s experience) •Non task orientated.•The affective priming of consumer experience.•Exploring relations between conscious and unconscious states•Neuro-usability Neuromarketing! New methods of persuasion

In his book Downcast Eyes, Martin Jay describes how sight was regarded as the noblest of the senses – from Plato to Descartes.

The eye was supposed to delineate the objects we perceive from the stream of subjective affects we absorb in the atmosphere.

As Kant contended, the visual apparatus was, “the purest intuition – since it gives an immediate representation of an object without admixture of noticeable sensation.”

As Jonathon Crary argues, it was imperative for thinkers of all kinds to discover what faculties, operations, or organs, produced the complex coherence of conscious attentive states.

Attention was to be determined by screening out meaningless reverie and distractions that disrupt reason.

Despite the affect programs in the 1970s and a noncognitive approach developed in the 1980s, mainstream sciences of the mind, including HCI, continued to neglect these disruptions to attention… Preferring to stick to behavior and cognition rather than the stuff of emotions, feelings and affects.

That was arguably until the mid 1990s, when the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error prompted much interest in the relation between cognition and emotion.

Damasio claims that:

Reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is… or wish it were.

Emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all… they may be enmeshed in its very networks.

Following Damasio the significance of the relation between embodied (somatic) emotions and cognitive decision making has spread throughout the sciences of the mind.

It also supports much of the conceptual frame of this third paradigm of HCI research.

Moreover, the relation between cognition and emotion has been grasped by business enterprises keen to tap into the experiences and decisions of the consumer

Particularly in neuromarketing, experience and emotional design, and now so-called neuro-usability.

Indeed, the emotion/cognition relation has played a key role in supporting the neuromarketers’ claim to new methods of persuasion.

To better understand what is meant by persuasion in this context, I want to focus here on the techniques of neuromarketing…

Particularly the combination of eye tracking software, along with neurophysiological devices like EEG and GSR.

Although the supporting hypothesis behind eye tracking is fundamentally Kantian – as part of the neuromarketers tool bag it measures more than conscious attention.

The eye is not merely a representational mirror of the mind.

New methods move on from simply seeing ideas and images as shapers of decisions.

They factor in the sensations experienced during attention.

Eye tracking quite literally measures what is attended to – by following a glint in the eye of the consumer. That is to say, an infrared light is reflected onto the eye and tracked.

Attention is analyzed according to fixations, saccades and scanpaths.

Fixations are measured according to duration (lasting between 250–500 milliseconds)

Saccades measure movement from one fixation to another (lasting 25 – 100 milliseconds).

When fixations and saccadic movements are linked together, they form scanpaths.

Most eye tracking research presents data in the form of a heat map, which shows the regions of most attention as hot and less attended areas as cold.

What is ostensibly being measured is thought attention, — generally linked to Just and Carpenters 1976 eye—mind” hypothesis, which states that “there is no noticeable lag between what is fixated and what is processed.”

“What a person is looking at is assumed to indicate the thought on top of the stack of cognitive processes.

Eye—movement recordings can thus provide a dynamic trace of where a person’s attention is being directed in relation to static or moving images.

Following this distinctly ocularcentric notion then, the eye—mind hypothesis traces a direct pathway between what enters the mind via the eye.

However, there are a number of anomalies, which suggest that the relation between sight and mind is not as direct or indeed conscious as it would seem.

Notably, the study of pupillometrics relates the unconscious reception of multiple sensory stimuli, triggered by smell, taste, touch and hearing, to pupil dilations…

This suggests that the journey between what is seen and what is thought is not an uninterrupted pathway.

By combining dilation with blinking and gazing, one eye tracking manufacturer claims that pupillometrics can reveal the eyes interpretation of affective valence… “going behind the cognitive curtain” and tapping into emotional engagement.

Another  software innovation by the Danish company, iMotions, flags a similar turn to affect in eye tracking.

Rather than presupposing that what is being looked at equates to what is being thought, the Emotion Tool works with eye tracking to analyze the relation between cognitive and emotional consumption.

Distinct from older methods that tend to measure user responses according to either voluntary attention or involuntary inattention, the Emotion Tool is intended to tap into the relation between these two states.

Older systems made a distinction between

(a) voluntary responses … associated with what is attracting the eye…

For example,

bodily gestures and orientation,

voice intonation, or eye contact and evasion.

And (b) involuntary responses

For example, increases in heart, pulse and breathing rates and body temperature

The Emotion Tool considers instead the relation between the implicit, unconscious part of the brain (the limbic system) – widely recognized as hardwired to the nervous system…

… and the physical reactions of the explicit, conscious system (the frontal cortex).

It is the somatic memory, physical responses and emotions of the implicit system which is now assumed to guide the explicit system.

As iMotions claim…

“It is now generally accepted that emotions dominate cognition: the ability to think, reason and remember.”

“Therefore, there is increasing interest in methods that can tap into these mostly subconscious emotional processes, in order to gain knowledge and understanding of consumer behavior.”

The Emotion Tool tracks facial expressions, particularly those that occur around the eyes, the amount of blinking, the duration of the gaze, and pupil dilation.

It also incorporates an algorithmic assessment of two dimensions of the emotional response: emotional strength and valence.

The first is gauged by the level of excitement an external stimulus provokes in the consumer,

The second, measures the feelings that follow the stimulus — the degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event.

Scores are calculated from a range of

Pleasant to Unpleasant

… or neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

High scores are defined as affective, low scores unaffective.

Neuromarketers increasingly use eye tracking in combination with EEG and GSR in an effort to link attention to what a consumer “feels about a product.”

They claim to substitute the biased inaccuracies of self—reporting surveys, with objective measurements of eye movement, electrical activity in the brain, heart rate, skin conductance and temperature

The intention is to prime consumer experiences by arousing certain feelings which are somatically absorbed and moved to memory.

As the enthusiastic CEO of the Berkley based company Neurofocus puts it, these techniques help the marketer to look beyond conscious consumer engagement and actively seek out what unconsciously attracts.

“Absorption is the ideal,” he claims.

Because it “signifies that the consumer’s brain has not only registers your marketing message or your creative content, but that the other centers of the brain that are involved with emotions and memory have been activated as well.”

Along these lines, persuasion and engagement become the watchwords of neuromarketing.

There are, it seems, 3 requirements  necessary to prime emotional experiences

First, attention is drawn by “cultivating the ability to change what is focused on by intervening directly in perception.”

What draws attention is informed by research into Attention Deficit Disorder.


Using research from obsessive compulsive disorders and manias…

…the neuromarketer endeavours to stimulate and fascinate the consumer’s emotional responses to the brand stimulus.


market researchers no longer need to survey memory retention. Using research from memory disorders, they claim to be able to anticipate purchase intention, and steer it toward predetermined points of fascination.

Persuading the consumer by appealing to the subconscious is of course nothing new.

Many brands are already saturated in emotional experiences and celebrity narrative. But neuroscience might just suggest how unconscious consumption actually works.

As one emotional design guru asserts, attention needs to be grabbed at the visceral level of experience processing. Brands are all about emotions which draw the consumer towards the product, influencing purchase intent.

Not surprisingly perhaps, these methods are not limited to the consumer of brands.

A similar neurological approach has recently spilled over into the arenas of political campaigning.

In theUSalready, researchers have measured neural activity in the brains of Democrats and Republicans viewing the faces of presidential candidates in 2004.

By studying emotion regions in the brain, they were able to compare neural activity to self—reporting of feelings felt for particular candidates.

When a voter views a politician’s face… cognitive control networks, which regulate emotional reactions, are activated.

The emotional responses of voters to the candidates in 2008 were also tested, including swing voters and Democrats exposed to Bush’s campaign commercial featuring the events of 9/11.

Here we see George Lakoff’s concern about the easy to manipulate, neo-conservative nature of the political unconscious.

The War on Terror becomes “a misleading and destructive idea introduced under conditions of trauma and then repeated so often that it is forever in your synapses.

As Thrift argues,

“political consultants now understand enough of the dynamics of brain—body chemistry to be able to make reasonably predictable interventions in the political unconscious.”

As a result it is “possible to tug on the behavior of voters by transferring certain narratives into the political domain as forms of habitual response which the individual voter is plainly susceptible to.”

Ok, so what kind of subjectification does neuro-persuasion imply?

If indeed emotions, feelings and affect are coupled to persuasion in this way, we are perhaps seeing the same subjectivity in the making described by the 19th Century contagion theorist, Gabriel Tarde.

Tarde’s project asked what is society?

He answered that society is imitation-suggestibility.

Indeed, social agency is, for Tarde, a dream of action.

It is a reverie in which the social somnambulist is under the influence of the magnetic action-at-a-distance of points of fascination and the intoxicating glory of celebrity

Like Tarde’s neuron-level contagion of example and suggestion, the neuro-consumer’s vulnerability to persuasion is not merely satisfied by mental images, but achieved by way of sub representational flows of sensation, desire and belief.

Tarde would have certainly grasped the jargon of neuromarketing.

His mind contagions explicitly refer to a relation he established between desire and belief – as one and the same as that established between affect and cognition.

The object of desire, Tarde argued, is belief…

A Tardean rethinking of persuasion theory returns us to a much older sociological spat he had with Durkheim.

On one hand, Durkheim grasped the social as distinct from psychology & biology…

“… every time the social is explained in that way, he contended, we may rest assured that the explanation is false.”

On the other, and in the words of Lazzarato, Tarde provides an… ‘understanding of social ‘associations’ … with no distinction made between Nature and Society’

“Nothing, is less scientific, Tarde argued, than the establishment of this absolute separation. Of this abrupt break. Between the voluntary and the involuntary. Between the conscious and the unconscious.

Do we not pass by insensible degrees, he asked, from deliberate volition to almost mechanical habit?

The somnambulist “unconsciously and involuntarily reflects the opinion of others, or allows an action of others to be suggested to him.”

Like the neuromarketer, Tarde’s persuasion theory occurs at an intersection point between

The culture of attraction


A biologically hardwired inclination to imitate.

It is possible to follow Tarde’s line of flight to a number of new sciences and business enterprises. There are indeed similarities between Tarde’s contagion theory and the new science of networks, for example.

Particularly theories of herding and cascading networks.

Others have related his work to memetics – the underpinning theory of viral marketing.

But I suggest that Tarde is neither a network theorist nor a Neo-Darwinist.

The somnambulist is not made of networks or memes.

Tarde offers instead a neurological explanation of subjectivity in the making: a production of a porous neurological relation with others.

Where Stanley Milgram attributed conformity and imitation to agentic social proof, Tarde’s herd cannot escape the swash of affect, feeling and emotion.

Here Tarde’s imitation thesis further intersects with the fairly recent mirror neuron hypothesis: a brain circuitry that

… fires when we either perform a given action or see someone else perform the same action.”

Like this, Thrift argues that the mirror neuron is

“. . . a plausible neurophysiological explanation for the means by which the existence of the other is etched into the brain so that we are able to intuit what the other is thinking – we are able to “mind read”—not only because we see others’ emotions but because we share them.”

It is perhaps the volatility of this encounter that makes Tarde’s somnambulist open to imitation—suggestibility.

Indeed, the potential for marketers and political consultants to “mind read” consumers and voters marks a potential shift from managerial aims of cognitive persuasion toward the steering of noncognitive feelings.

Following the noncognitive psychologist Robert Zajonc, we could say that neuro-persuasion works on beliefs… not by way of appealing directly to the eye or mind, but rather by way of the gut or feelings that bypass or influence cognitive processes.

This is not an unthinking model of persuasion, far from it: It is rather, as Zajonc argues, the idea that feelings might have a mind of their own.

This is a marked shift away from the cognitive user in HCI, in which the inputs and outputs of the black box mind are managed and put to work, toward the neurological management of the unconscious, increasingly monitored and absorbed into a Tardean-like dream of action.

No longer a model of the mind—as—digital—computer, but an over stimulated twenty—first—century neuro—somnambulist: someone who confuses what they believe, desire, and decide on, with what they dream about.