Mass Society, Mass Culture, and Mass Communication:The Meanings of Mass

Kurt Lang, Gladys Engel Lang


The concept of mass goes back a long way to characterize a society that consists of people somehow connected by communication while, at the same time, also dispersed in space and essentially detached from one another. Mass has also been a pejorative for critics of modern capitalist society and its culture. In the years after World War II, this latter use of the term became the target of a broadside attack by several highly credentialed scholars, who questioned its value as an analytic tool. This paper, starting with Ferdinand Tönnies, offers a brief overview of both the origins of the concept of mass and its subsequent refinement by French, German, and American sociologists into the mid-1930s. Distinguishing between its ideological connotations and the analytic use of the term helps us to focus on the most general and persistent effects of mass communication: expanding the range of common experience and making people more responsive to distant events. This effect is magnified by the ubiquity of mass media; practically no one, not even those who scorn them, can altogether escape their influence.

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