16 January 2011

Article: Tony D. Sampson, "Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe"

CTheory's latest special issue In the Name of Security of its e-journal Theory Beyond the Codes offers up the first instalment of a new rumination by Tony D. Sampson. Sampson revisits nineteenth-century sociologist Gabriel Tarde's contagion theory in the context of communication theory in combination with the work of cognitive scientist George Lakoff and socio-political theorist Teresa Brennan

At the bridge between the social and the biological, Sampson negotiates a variety of current phenomena (from Obama-love to consumer behaviour and the GFC) to trace the conditioning and organisation of infectious social environments. While this article is introductory in flavour, it works through a tantalising (abstract) diagram of Tardean human relations.

"Tarde's social becomes an assemblage of relationality composed of self-spreading and mesmeric imitative waves or flows. What comes together ...[is] the 'coherent' outcomes of 'desires that have been excited or sharpened by certain [social] inventions,' which have imitatively radiate outward, point-to-point, assembling what appear to be the logical arrangements of social form, like markets, nations and cities. What radiates outwards are neither social facts nor collective representations, but the microrelations of shared passions, thoughts, conversations, beliefs, feelings and affects which pass through porous self/other relations in all manner of contagious enviroments... The social, according to Tarde, is a vital force that self-spreads, radiates and vibrates out from capricious mechanism-independent social encounters with events and accidents."

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