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Social Avalanches and Tensional Individuality: Contagion in an Age of COVID-19

Virtual presentation by Professor Christian Borch

2020.06.12 | Yasmin Marie Jensen

Date Thu 18 Jun
Time 10:00 11:30
Location Place(s): 1) Digital attendance via Zoom, 2) (if we are allowed to) proper distanced collective viewing/interaction in ADA333, Nygaard Building 5335, Finlandsgade 21. If you want to attend the event (one way or the other), please send an email to norcs@cc.

Modern sociology tends to analyze collective behavior in rationalist-individualist terms: individuals join forces in order to pursue their singular interests, be it in the form of protest against (perceived) illegitimate conditions and/or to advance a particular political agenda. In this talk, I present a different understanding of collectivity and its relation to individuality. Drawing on my recent book, Social Avalanche: Crowds, Cities and Financial Markets (CUP 2020), I argue for reviving classical sociological notions of imitation, crowd behavior, and contagion. I suggest that individuality is given in a tensional relationship between mimetic features (imitating others) and anti-mimetic ones (some core independence), but that certain situations, social avalanches, can sweep away the individual in a mimetic maelstrom. I demonstrate how the notion of social avalanches is tied to ideas about social contagion and how late-nineteenth-century concerns about social avalanches and the ensuing loss of individuality propelled recommendations for social distancing that blended notions of biological and social contagion. In addition to forming an important historical backdrop to present-day responses to COVID-19, this way of thinking about individuality, collectivity, and their contagious connections has important analytical purchase for better understanding current financial markets, including financial contagion.

Christian Borch is Professor of Economic Sociology and Social Theory at the Copenhagen Business School and the PI of the ERC-funded AlgoFinance research project (http://info.cbs.dk/algofinance). His latest book is Social Avalanche.

Seminar, Kulturelle Transformationer