mass society

mass society
The modern image of mass society, although not the label, begins with the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville , who toured the United States in the 1830s in search of the secret of democracy . He was struck by the similarity of ideas and values among the people, and speculated that such a society might fall victim to a mass or herd mentality which he called ‘the tyranny of the majority’. Tocqueville's classic description of mass society has echoed through the whole subsequent history of social theory: ‘…an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest. His children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them but he sees them not; he touches them but he feels them not.’
Nineteenth-century sociologists shared many of de Tocqueville's concerns about the emerging culture of industrial societies. Émile Durkheim diagnosed anomie in the new order, and Max Weber focused on the dead hand of bureaucracy . Ferdinand Tönnies , in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887), reflected unfavourably on the crowded, urban, mass societies then emerging in Europe.
These ideas were largely ignored or dismissed as élitist nostalgia until the 1950s, when sociologists and political scientists began to write about the immediate past history of totalitarianism in Europe and the Soviet Union. In The Politics of Mass Society(1959), William Kornhauser argued that populations cut adrift from stable communities , and having uniform and fluid values, would be highly vulnerable to the appeals of totalitarian mass movements.
Max Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno, and others of the Frankfurt School (see critical theory ) focused their attention on the narrowly ideological nature of ‘mass culture’, and a whole critical literature developed around this perspective. Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) developed this line of argument to its fullest extent, asserting the absolute hegemony of mass culture and the impossibility of social change. Salvador Giner provided a comprehensive summary of both conservative and radical theories in his 1976 book Mass Society.
The term mass society has fallen out of fashion in sociology because of its essential vagueness and its value-laden character. But social theorists as various as Krishan Kumar, Christopher Lasch, Peter Berger, and Robert Bellah continue to explore the social relationships and cultural meanings created within large-scale, highly institutionalized societies which lack traditional community ties.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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