Journal of Classical Sociology November 26, 2010 vol. 10 no. 4 291-314
A discussion of the works of Tarde, Canetti, and Deleuze reveals some common insights into a social epistemology that rejects both methodological individualism and methodological holism. In this respect, the debate on crowds in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is particularly interesting because it is the historical context within which the individualist and holist epistemologies took shape. Arguably, that debate is still rich and inspiring today insofar as it can be said to open the problem field of the relationship between the individual and the group in social thought and sociological theory. Despite several differences, Tarde, Canetti, and Deleuze converge on a concept that can be termed ‘multiplicity’. It includes phenomena like crowds and packs (or ‘sects’, in Tarde’s terminology) that are properly speaking neither subjects nor objects. The concept provides a prism that also has relevant consequences for an understanding of the processes of imitation and leadership.