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Virality

Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks

2012
Author:

Tony D. Sampson

Virality

A new theory of viral relationality beyond the biological

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 restrict itself to biological analogies and medical metaphors; it instead points toward a theory of contagious assemblages, events, and affects. For Sampson, contagion is how society comes together and relates.

Impressive and ambitious, Virality offers a new theory of the viral as a sociological event.

Brian Rotman, Ohio State University

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 restrict 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 how society comes together and relates.

Sampson argues that a biological knowledge of contagion has been universally distributed by way of the rhetoric of fear in the antivirus industry and other popular discourses surrounding network culture. This awareness is also detectable in concerns over too much connectivity, such as problems of global financial crisis and terrorism. Sampson’s “virality” is as established as that of the biological meme and microbe but is not understood through representational thinking expressed in metaphors and analogies. Rather, Sampson interprets 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 overcategorize 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.

Virality

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

Virality

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

Virality

Contents

Introduction
1. Resuscitating Tarde’s Diagram in the Age of Networks
2. What Spreads? From Memes and Crowds to the Phantom Events of Desire and Belief
3. What Diagram? Toward a Political Economy of Desire and Contagion
4. From Terror Contagion to the Virality of Love
5. Tardean Hypnosis: Capture and Escape in the Age of Contagion

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index