PROPAGANDA & ITS PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS

2021_1

 

Deadline for submissions: 9.30.2020

In social and political science, propaganda can be characterized as a psychological action using all means of information to propagate a doctrine, create a movement of opinion and provoke a decision (source: National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources). Propaganda seeks to convince rather than inform, campaigning to influence a person or an authority, disseminating a message to a targeted audience. It mainly relates to politics, power and counter-power dynamics. In 1967, Theodor Adorno in The New Right-wing Extremism characterized it as an extreme perfection of rational means serving irrational ends. Traditionally, propaganda differs from advertising campaigns and has no lucrative purpose.


How can we relate to this definition of Th. Adorno's propaganda more than fifty years later? Does this nuance between market value and political stakes still hold in our current society, where networks of influence are becoming more complex? As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988) make explicit in their model of propaganda, where the boundary between power dynamics and economic stakes merge, are we facing a propaganda that redefines its terms and techniques? Moreover, what would be the purposes of today's propaganda?


A "Cambridge Analytica » data scandal, for example, shook the referendum on Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election and influenced local politics in 68 countries (Cadwalladr, 2020). This private company used the "likes" of the users of the digital platform Facebook to draw up their psychological profile and resell this data to campaign managers. On this basis, using the company's services, the latter could offer targeted content on the users' news feed. These people were unknowingly influenced by these videos and dispatches that appeared side by side with the publications of their family and friends.


David Colon (2019) speaks of "total propaganda" in the age of social networks, algorithms, trolls. The war of (dis)information(s) through the intoxication of the adversary, fake news, hacking of presidential elections makes any scientific analysis of the observed facts obsolete. The most worrying manifest effects of this propaganda would be the modification of behaviors (Shoshana Zouboff, 2019) and the polarization of emotions generating likes (Giuliano da Empoli, 2019), as well as an explosion of populist movements imposing leaders like Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Orban, Salvini, etc.


Critical studies (of the media in particular, as the main propaganda agent) focus on the psychological effects of propaganda, a notion that has become taboo in academic circles, as Zollmann (2017) points out.


Sociology and cognitive psychology (Bronner, 2013; Lewandowsky et al., 2017) have begun to reflect on the confirmation biases intrinsic to this new propaganda within the era of social networks. Serge Tchakhotine (1952) used the terms of "crowd rape" and "psychological rape" to expose the conditioned Pavlovian reflexes carefully studied by propaganda institutes created by governments from the 1930s onwards and employing psychologists, psychoanalysts, anthropologists, etc. (Colon, 2019). Can today's "neuromarketing" be considered as an heir to this use of science to influence the masses? Can contemporary propaganda be thought of from the angle of psycho-power or neuro-power, with nudging infiltrating the communication techniques of leaders? This calls for a new analysis of the contemporary articulation between the individual, the collective and the meta-framework of power. In what way is the governmentality (Foucault, 1978) of our time influenced by a new approach to scientificity, turned towards risk prevention (Beck, 2007) and the management of behaviours (Curtis, 2016)? In what way, too, can this biopolitical society (Foucault, 1978) be turned into a culture, or even a cult, of ignorance (Girel, 2017)? The propaganda of our time, which this issue proposes to explore, involves thinking about conspiracy theories and other techniques currently in use. It is also fundamental to question the instances from which these alternative facts and distortions of information emanate, where the limits of true and false, fiction and reality seem to be fading away.  

Theodor Adorno thought it was in the service of "end-of-the-world fantasies" (1067, p. 26). For him, it was above all a matter of mass psychology.


Propaganda as an environmental agent with major unconscious influences has not yet been the subject of psychoanalytical studies as such. Psychoanalysts, starting with Freud, have, however, informed the development of propaganda strategies. The latter, from his analyses of social facts, in the works Psychology of the Masses and Analysis of the Ego, Civilization and its discontent and Future of an Illusion, laid the groundwork for a psychology of the masses and a psychoanalysis of the renunciation of instinct inherent in all civilizational work. Several authors after him (Zaltzman, Janin, Kaes, Rouchy, Stenger, to name but a few) have led major reflections on the vicissitudes of the work of civilization according to periods and cultures.


Psychoanalysis has precious keys to think, together with the social and political sciences, about this evolving phenomenon, to identify its effects on the subject, but also on the reciprocal alterations of the individual and of the forms of organization of the collective that can be understood through the analysis of these systems of influence. With psychoanalysis, can we think of propaganda as a dream work or a political symptom of our globalized social group? In what then, do the contours of current propaganda inform us about the state of our political system and the major psychic organizers of our post-modern social group?  

This issue proposes to think, always in the transdisciplinary dialogue that characterizes us, about the renewed forms of propaganda in our post-modern society. How can we characterize these new influencing techniques? Is it an evolution of old modes of influence or a technical revolution that is disrupting individual psychic economies? What are the effects, moreover, of this renewed propaganda in terms of the mutation of subjectivities and subjective positioning? How has the propaganda of hatred, fear, consumption (the other hydra of the contemporary world) influenced the subject of the environmental crisis, which is also a subject of economic warfare? And how could we approach, in the clinic, its unconscious effects combined with the effects of early experiences?


It is on the basis of these various, non-exhaustive questionings that we propose to open the reflection on this phenomenon of contemporary propaganda, for the purpose of analyzing the state of the Socius today as well as to draw the contours of a clinic of the individual and the post-modern social group.

REFERENCES
Adorno, T. (2019). Le nouvel extrémisme de droite. Climats.
Beck, U. (2007). World at risk. Polity.
Bronner, G. (2013). La démocratie des crédules. Presses universitaires de France.
Cadwalladr, C. (2020). Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’. The Guardian.
Colon. D. (2019). Propagande. La manipulation de masse dans le monde contemporain. Paris : Belin.
Curtis, A. (2016). HyperNormalisation. UK: BBC.
Foucault, M. (1989). De la gouvernementalité: leçons d'introduction aux cours des années 1978 et 1979. Seuil.
Freud, S. (1921). Psychologie des foules et analyse du moi. Payot (2013).
Freud, S. (1927). L’avenir d’une illusion. Flammarion (2019).
Freud, S. (1930). Le malaise dans la civilisation. Points (2016).
Herman, E., Chomsky, N. (1988). La fabrication du consentement : de la propagande médiatique en démocratie. Paris : Agone (2008).
Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of applied research in memory and cognition, 6(4), 353-369.
Girel, M. (2017). Science et territoires de l'ignorance. Éditions Quae.
Tchakhotine, S. (1952). Le viol des foules par la propagande politique. Gallimard.
Zollmann, F. (2017). Bringing Propaganda Back into News Media Studies. Critical sociology, 45 (3), p. 329-345.
Zuboff, S. (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Public affairs.

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