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Tarde, Gabriel

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Writing name of French sociologist Jean Gabriel de Tarde (1843-1904), whose investigations into the psychology of crowds, focusing on minute (and, as it were, epidemic) interactions among individuals defined through their membership in a group, only became influential after about 1950. His prescient sense of the nature of a twentieth century world consumed by "progress" is eloquently manifest in La Psychologie économique ["Economic Psychology"] (1902 2vols), as first quoted by Rosalind Williams in Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth Century France (1982) [her translation]:

The end of the world, this great terror of the Middle Ages, is destined to become a source of anguish again in another sense. It is no longer in time but in space that this terrestrial globe reveals itself as inextensible; and the deluge of civilized humanity already hurls itself at [insurmountable] limits.... What are we going to do when soon we will no longer be able to count on external markets, Asian, African, to serve as a palliative or derivative for our discords, as outlets for our merchandise, for our instincts of cruelty, of pillage and of prey, for our criminality as well as for our overflowing birthrate? How will we manage to reestablish among ourselves a relative peace which has had as its condition for so long our conquering projection outside ourselves, far from ourselves?

Consistent with this sense of building planetary crisis (see End of the World; Fantastika; Imperialism), Tarde's sf novel, Fragment d'Histoire Future (1896 Revue internationale de sociologie; 1896; exp 1904; trans Cloudesley Brereton as Underground Man 1905), with an introduction by H G Wells, depicts first a world society on the surface of the Earth, then, with the sudden exhaustion of the Sun's energy, a sanitary Underground Utopia. Eventually humanity hollows out the interior of the planet (see Hollow Earth), and settles in. Tarde's Satirical portrait of Near Future human society is consistent with his views as a theorist, and the lightness of tone of the book is clearly intended to scathe. The subsequent Utopia is manifestly described as being unworkable in the long term. Wells's long preface extends a gingerly sympathy but seems in the end uncomprehending. [JC]

Jean Gabriel de Tarde

born Sarlat, Dordogne, France: 12 March 1843

died Paris: 13 May 1904


nonfiction (highly selected)

  • La Psychologie économique ["Economic Psychology"] (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1902) [nonfiction: published in two volumes: binding unknown/]


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