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The rise of industrialized mass-societies predicated on notions of popular sovereignty transformed relationships between state power, ideology and the population. Modern propaganda is a product of this transformation. Under the old regime, the population was expected to acquiesce, obey, and fulfill its obligations. Belief was an attribute of the spiritual realm, embodied in religious institutions, whose representatives policed the boundaries of acceptable thought. The doctrine of popular sovereignty undermined this division of labor and engendered a new set of imperatives. Rather than suppressing harmful ideas, it became necessary to propagate a positive set of beliefs that would resonate with the interests of power and ensure not only passive compliance, but active support. New modes of communication, such as the mass-circulation newspaper, public events, graphic arts, radio, film and eventually television, played a central role as tools in shaping mass consciousness. In times of peace, varying interests competed to deploy these tools to advance programs ranging from the promotion of commercial products to campaigns for public health, moral reform, and political dominance. At moments of war and crisis, the state mobilized the tools of persuasive communication to inculcate a uniform worldview. Totalitarian parties and regimes, arising in the 1920s and 30s, extended this wartime mobilization of media and ideas into ordinary life, thus exposing populations to a continual torrent of information designed to inculcate a cohesive regime of truth. This symposium will explore the processes and technologies underlying the phenomenon of modern propaganda, and provide a comparative view of the ways in which both state and non-state actors have strived to shape the popular mindset through the manipulation of ideas, images and emotions.

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Seton Hall University


Arts and Humanities | History

Technologies of Truth: Propaganda, Ideology, and the Modern State

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