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Social Avalanche
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Book description

Individuality and collectivity are central concepts in sociological inquiry. Incorporating cultural history, social theory, urban and economic sociology, Borch proposes an innovative rethinking of these key terms and their interconnections via the concept of the social avalanche. Drawing on classical sociology, he argues that while individuality embodies a tension between the collective and individual autonomy, certain situations, such as crowds and other moments of group behaviour, can subsume the individual entirely within the collective. These events, or social avalanches, produce an experience of being swept away suddenly and losing one's sense of self. Cities are often on the verge of social avalanches, their urban inhabitants torn between de-individualising external pressure and autonomous self-presentation. Similarly, Borch argues that present-day financial markets, dominated by computerised trading, abound with social avalanches and the tensional interplay of mimesis and autonomous decision-making. Borch argues that it is no longer humans but fully automated algorithms that avalanche in these markets.

Reviews

‘Internationally known for his work on the role played by the crowd theory in the origins of sociology, particularly in France at the end of the nineteenth century (The Politics of Crowds: An Alternative History of Sociology, Cambridge, 2012), Christian Borch, in this new book, develops a critical reinterpretation of this tradition which brought him to build a completely original conceptual apparatus. One of the interests of this frame is to render again social sciences attentive to the plasticity and uncertainty of social processes. Its empirical implementation sheds a new light on crucial and misunderstood aspects of our modernity, particularly in the financial sphere. An important book that will trigger new debates in social sciences.'

Luc Boltanski - School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris

‘In Social Avalanche: Crowds, Cities and Financial Markets, Christian Borch brilliantly re-reads nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social, cultural and economic theories to reveal how they identified the tensions experienced by modern individuals trying to hold themselves together in crowds that also carried them away. Borch makes new connections between denizens of cities on the verge of losing their individuality in social avalanches and algorithms running off the rails in high-frequency-driven ‘Flash Crashes'. A fascinating read deeply relevant to our current era.'

Robin Wagner-Pacifici - University in Exile Professor of Sociology, New School for Social Research, New York

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