Opinion and the crowd
by Chetan Parikh
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In a classic book, “The Age of the Crowd”, the author, Serge Moscovici, writes on mass psychology.


“COMMUNICATION is the outstanding example of a social process. Change its forms and means, and it will immediately change the nature of groups and the way power is exercised, as history shows. It would be wrong to see it simply as a tool in the hands of men who set out to win the hearts and minds of crowds. The truth is that it imposes its rules on them, and they are indeed forced to obey them. As an illustration of this, one needs only to consider the profound transformation of political and cultural life under the influence first of radio and then television. Over a single generation, the tone and style of discourse and the competition for time between words and images have totally changed.


Tarde had glimpsed this. Each type of communication, he said, had its corresponding type of sociability. Traditional communication from speaker to listener had the crowd; modern forms of communication, starting with the newspaper, have their public. Each also has its specific leader. The press created its own, the publicist.


It is possible to object that this is rather a narrow way of looking at things. Indeed, there is no mention at all of the social and economic conditions of these relationships. Perhaps in one sense the whole thing is a little superficial for someone who claims to examine the field exhaustively and we can no longer find it satisfactory. On the other hand, it is clear and can be expressed succinctly: the development of the means communication determines that of groups and the way in which they made susceptible to mass suggestion. There is a history of communications just as there is a history of technology and labour. It provides us with a veritable psychology of exchanges, ways of speaking and persuasion.”