Propaganda Revisited: Political persuasion in social conflicts (MA)

Conflictual public debates live from the competition of plural actors over ideas and arguments. In their efforts to rally support for their specific positions, each actor employs a wide range of persuasive strategies. However, some forms of political persuasion cross the line between legitimate democratic debate and propaganda: Exploiting their communication power, as well as certain cultural, sociological and cognitive biases, they try to overpower competing claims and establish a monopoly on defining the situation. In this class, we will systematically examine those strategies and conditions used by political propaganda in order to dominate the debate, undoing pluralistic competition. Drawing upon a wide range of examples, both historical and contemporary, we will define the challenges, strategies, and enabling conditions that shape the success and failure of propagandistic persuasion. Reviewing the theoretical and conceptual foundations of propaganda and persuasion research, we update existing wisdom to account for contemporary forms of propaganda, such as online incitement, fake news and disinformation. The class aims to develop an understanding not only of what situations in social conflict are particularly prone to propaganda, but also what strategies and policies are suitable to contain propaganda and defend the plural, democratic debate.

Course Topics

  • Getting to terms: Propaganda as anti-pluralist political communication 
  • Justified propaganda? Ordering the normative debate 
  • Dominance, deference, doubt & disruption: Changing objectives of propaganda 
  • Media control: Propaganda production outside and inside the media 
  • Building the bubble: Propaganda’s appeal to audiences 
  • One truth: Strategies for repelling contestation 
  • Making differences: The discursive structure of propaganda 
  • Love, rage and anxiety: The emotional embedding of propaganda
  • Sing along: The cultural embedding of propaganda 
  • Evident explanations: The cognitive mechanisms of propaganda 
  • Outcasts & communities: The sociological context of propaganda 
  • Another age of propaganda? Remodeling propaganda in the new media 
  • Fighting hydras and windmills: Present strategies at countering propaganda 
  • Resistance is futile? Avenues for safeguarding pluralism