Professor John Mercer (Birmingham City University)
Professor Susanna Paasonen (University of Turku)
Professor Tim Dean (University of Illinois)
We’re living in viral times; ours is a time of contagion. As Tony Sampson writes in his book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, “the networked infrastructures of late capitalism are interwoven with the universal logic of the epidemic” (Sampson 2011, 1–2). Deeply connected to contemporary biopolitics and modes of digital sociability, virality also underpins news forms of wealth creation and accumulation sustained by 21st-century media, whilst at the same time (paradoxically, perhaps) presenting a political threat through the risk it carries of “contagious overspills” that may undo borders, nation states, institutions, ontologies and subjectivities (2). Defined by Sampson as “contagious relationality” (3), in the age of memes, “fake news,” hacking, epidemics, ecological crisis, global migration flows, antiretroviral drugs, YouTube and Pornhub, virality is at the centre of contemporary forms of both control and liberation (5–6). Whilst, on the one hand, it sustains the logics of 21st-century biopolitics (antiretrovirals, hygiene, cyber security, ID and age-verification systems, etc.), on the other, it has the capacity to disrupt subjectivities and social assemblages, a capacity that resides in its ability to facilitate unforeseen flows of desire and affect (chemsex parties organised through Grindr and facilitated by Uber, biohacking, citizen journalism, Wikileaks, Anonymous, the “Arab Spring,” the “Yellow Vest Movement,” etc.).
If our time is a game of push and pull fuelled on all sides by contagious forms of relationality, what then for masculinities? If our understandings of masculinity are “inherently relational” (Connell 2005, 68), what happens to them in a context of “contagious relationality” (Sampson 2011, 3)? If “gender is a way in which social practice is ordered” (Connell 2005, 71), what has been the impact on masculinities of a social order both coded and disrupted through viral means?