How Relevant Are The Early Theories Of Mass Society In Today’s Media Environment?

2116 words - 8 pages

The Media has been thought to have effects on people since its infancy. When the mass media first evolved many people became concerned about what influence it was having on society, and so various theories were used during this early period in attempt to explain just what these effects were. The reason for concern about the media was primarily based on the change in society, so there was the belief that the ‘powerful’ media could take advantage of this situation and manipulates the ‘masses’. This essay will discuss how relevant the early theories of mass society are in today’s media environment, as there have been vast changes in terms of society as well as the media. Before this discussion, the concepts of mass society need to be examined in order to understand the reasons why scientists were concerned for society and how theories were developed around these ideas of society to comprehend the media’s effects.
As the twentieth century was approaching society was in transition. Society once thought of as ‘a traditional and stable social system’ (DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach, 1989: 159) was developing into an atomized one where tradition, community and family values began to decline; leaving a mass of isolated individuals which scientists called the ‘mass society’. A variety of theorists gave their perspective on the concept of this changed society, one of which was German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies who established a ‘theory of social bonds’ (ibid: 152). His analysis contrasts the features of the ‘Gemeinschaft’ (community) (Tonnies, 2002:33) with features of the ‘Gesellschaft’ (society) (ibid) to explain the nature of the mass society and how corrupt it was compared to traditional society of the pre-industrial period. Tonnies explained the Gemeinschaft as traditional, where family and community bonds are strong; people had ‘intimate knowledge of one another’ (ibid: 43), however there was a loss of this sense of community due to the impact of urbanisation and industrialisation. Tonnies saw this as a negative impact, describing the Gesellschaft as ‘transitory and superficial’ (ibid: 35); a new environment where social bonds were loose and informal relationships were replaced with formal, contractual ones. It is revealed, in Tonnies’ theory, that he believed that society had moral problems due to the loss of tradition and religion and this was seen as a threat. Also because of the demise of community, Tonnies saw a mass of individuals who were psychologically isolated. This sociological analysis of societal organization has been exaggerated by Tonnies; it is a useful concept for thinking about the transformation to modern industrial society. However, the theory must also be criticised as it is elitist, because he emphasises the loss of power from authorities and opinion leaders such as religion and blames society for the diminishing morals. The theory also seems to ponder over ‘The Golden Age’ where traditional society was said to be ‘better’; not...

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