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The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study…

The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study of the Changing American… (original 1950; edition 2001)

by David Riesman (Author)

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585524,123 (3.64)12
Title:The Lonely Crowd, Revised edition: A Study of the Changing American Character
Authors:David Riesman (Author)
Info:Yale University Press (2001), Edition: 2nd Edition, 315 pages
Collections:Wishlist, To read (inactive)
Tags:society, ethics, philosophy of mind, personhood

Work details

The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman (1950)

  1. 00
    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand (proximity1)
  2. 00
    In Search of Heresy: American Literature in an Age of Conformity by John W. Aldridge (proximity1)
    proximity1: Chapter 4 (entitled "Gray new world") of this brilliant work of literary criticism (In Search of Heresy), published in 1956, is in effect an insightful review of The Lonely Crowd,. For citations of it, see the LT entry for In Search of Heresy, (http://www.librarything.com/work/5949721)… (more)
  3. 00
    Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman (proximity1)
  4. 00
    The Waning of Humaneness by Konrad Lorenz (proximity1)
  5. 00
    In the Country of the Young by John W. Aldridge (proximity1)

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Showing 4 of 4
Originally published in 1950, this fascinating sociological analysis was one of the assigned readings for a college course I once took on the intellectual history of twentieth-century America, and has - despite its flaws - been very influential in shaping my own ideas about conformity and independent thinking. An examination of the various "character types" to be found in the American middle class, Riesman, Glazer and Denney's magnum opus tackles the difficult topic of conformity, seeking to determine what type of person is most dominant in society, and the implications this has for autonomous thought and action.

The authors lay out three basic character types, comprising: the "tradition-directed" person, who takes his or her behavioral cues from long-established social patterns; the "inner-directed" one, who is motivated largely by internal moral/ethical concerns and standards; and the up-and-coming "other-directed" type, who is zealously tuned in to the behavior of their group (whatever that might be). While all of these "types" represent ways of being in the world that allow the individual to integrate into society, and are thus all, to one extent or another, encouraging of conformity (there being, thankfully, no cartoon-like Ayn Rand characters in The Lonely Crowd), Riesman et. al. note that it is the third and final character type alone - the "other-directed" - that emphasizes behavioral conformity for its own sake.

Paradoxically, it is this same type - the one the authors believed was rapidly coming to dominance in the American culture at the time they were writing - that also seemed to offer, through its emphasis on self-analysis, the possibility of a shift toward a more autonomous "inner-directed" type. That shift toward greater autonomy, and the seeking after it, was something the authors envisioned as occurring in a number of counter-cultural arenas (notably: "Bohemia," "sex," and "tolerance"), although it is instructive to note that they also observed that supposedly rebellious enclaves could be as rigidly conformist, internally, as anything they opposed externally.

Although it has been some years since I last picked it up, I can still call to mind the mixture of admiration and frustration I experienced, when first reading The Lonely Crowd (a memorable title, if ever there was one). On the one hand, I found the authors' character-type analysis very persuasive, particularly as I think that the "other-directed" type has continued to dominate the American scene. On a personal level, as someone raised in a progressive home - someone who had always been willing to champion unpopular causes - I found the discussion of conformity within counter-cultural groups very enlightening. It seems self evident to me now, but the idea that rebellion might go hand in hand with obedient conformity, that the mores of the dominant society might simply have been replaced by those of a smaller group, was revelatory.

But although there is no denying the importance of this book, as a means of understanding 20th-century American culture, it is not without significant flaws. The limitations inherent in an analysis that focuses exclusively on the middle class, however dominant that class might be, leap immediately to mind, all the more so given the racial divisions that run alongside class ones, in the American model. Prescient in some ways, and oblivious in others, The Lonely Crowd is still a book that I would recommend to all readers with an interest in group and identity formation, and issues of independence and conformity. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Jun 25, 2013 |
Amazing how much was said about modern society fifty years ago, that still is relevant and insightful, and still is chewed upon or simply stated as new ideas.
The sociological explanation being that in the fifties of the last century society was on a fast track to the consumer society with its mass media. In the mean time creating people that 'know what they like, but don't know what they want'. And all of that was quite new at that time ( )
  freetrader | Feb 26, 2009 |
The Lonely Crowd, a nearly 400-page study by David Riesman, written, according to the first edition, in collaboration with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer. The book appeared in 1950, published by Yale University Press. The initial print run was 3,000; an abridged edition came out as a paperback in 1953 as a Doubleday Anchor Book. It eventually sold more than 1.4 million copies. (The book is still in print in a Yale University Press paperback edition.) Its intriguing title no doubt contributed to this phenomenal popularity, as did its readable and often informal style and its use of a time-honored mode of social commentary, offering a statistics-free exposition of the argument. The book bears no resemblance to what now passes for scientific analysis in sociology, but draws instead on erudition, historical learning, and personal observation and insight. But most of all, the explanation for the book's success is that Riesman 's searching and sharp-eyed examination of social trends in modern industrial society responded to a felt need for self-examination in midcentury America. Actually, the title of the book was an add-on; it does not appear in the text itself The subtitle is more informative: A Study of the Changing American Character.

David Riesman was born on 22 September 1909. His original field of study was law; his career as a lawyer included clerking for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Between 1946 and 1958 he was on the faculty of social sciences at the University of Chicago and after that, until his retirement, he served as professor of sociology at Harvard University. He died 10 May 2002.

As its subtitle suggests, The Lonely Crowd was not only an examination of the changing structures and folkways of American society at mid-century but also an exploration of the changes taking place within the souls of individual Americans.

The Lonely Crowd started out as a relatively modest study of the sources of political apathy. But it grew like topsy, through many drafts, into a much more ambitious study of American life. When the book was finally published in 1950, the professional sociological community gave it a subdued reception, a mixture of lukewarm praise and mildly dismissive criticism. But, to Riesman's surprise, it received a far more enthusiastic reception from the general reading public.

In retrospect, it is not hard to see why. The very title of The Lonely Crowd - although the phrase was dreamed up virtually at the last moment by the publisher, and never appears in the book - seemed to register the ambivalences of an entire generation of middle-class Americans. The oxymoron also captured many of the more troubling features of the corporatized, bureaucratized, suburbanized, and homogenized white-collar America that had emerged in full flower in the years after World War II.

The Lonely Crowd is above all else a study in what Riesman, following his mentor, Erich Fromm, called "social character": the dominant mode of psychological conformity that any cohesive society inculcates in its members. As such, it is of a piece with the works of numerous social scientists of the era who sought to connect "culture and personality," writers such as Fromm, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Karen Homey, Abram Kardiner, and Geoffrey Gorer. But The Lonely Crowd made a distinctive contribution to this burgeoning literature through its unforgettable taxonomy of personality types and its explanation of how these various types came into being historically.
  antimuzak | Sep 29, 2006 |
So, for many of us, our biggest achievement in the day has to do with toiletry: Self-grooming. The days of sitting around the fire together picking lice from each other's hair is over. And there are so many MORE of everything, including, ironically, us.
Here's the good news: Gawd, we are INTERESTING! We have "character". It is "changing". TBD
  keylawk | Sep 26, 2006 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Riesmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Denney, Reuelmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Glazer, Nathanmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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(from the Doubleday paperback edition, 1954)

This is a book about social character and about the differences in social character between men of different regions, eras, and groups. It considers the ways in which different social types, once they are formed at the knee of society, are then deployed in the work, play, politics, and child-rearing activities of society. More particularly, it is about the way in which one kind of social character, which dominated America in the nineteenth century, is gradually being replaced by a social character of a quite different sort. Just why this happened; how it happened; what are its consequences in some major areas of life: this is the subject of this book. (p. 17)
... Character, in this sense, is the more or less permanent socially and historically conditioned organization of an individual's drives and satisfactions--the kind of "set" with which he approaches the world and people.

"Social character" is that part of "character" which is shared among significant social groups and which, as most contemporary social scientists define it, is the product of the experience of these groups. The notion of social character permits us to speak, as I do throughout this book, of the character of classes, groups, regions, and nations. (p. 18)
Population curves and economic structures are only a part of the ecology of character formation. Interposed between them and the resultant social character are the human agents of character formation: the parents, the teachers, the members of the peer-group, and the story-tellers. These are the transmitters of of the social heritage, and they wield great infuence over the lives of children and hence on the whole society. For children live at the wave front of the successive population phases and are the partially plastic receivers of the social character of the future. (p. 54)

See also Citation #10 at The Waning of Humaneness by Konrad Lorenz, (http://www.librarything.com/work/9866...) .
(4) Each new historical phase on the curve of population is marked by an increase in the length of life and in the period of socialization--that is, the period before full entry into one's adult social and economic role. At the same time there is an increase in the responsibility placed on character-forming agents outside the home, the clan or the village. (p. 55)
(5) All these tendencies are reinforced when the roles become more complicated as the division of labor progresses. The acceleration of the division of labor means that increasing numbers of children can no longer take their parents' roles as models. (p. 58)
(6) Yet, while parents in the stage of transitional growth of population cannot be sure of what the adult working role and mode of life of their children will be, neither can conformity to that role be left to chance and behavioural opportunism. To possess the drive that is required to fulfill demanding and ever more demanding roles calls for greater attention to formal character training. Especially in the Protestant countries character training becomes an important part of education, though of course, this does not mean that most parents consciously undertake to produce children to meet new social specifications.
The new situation created by increased social mobility implies that children must frequently be socialized in such a way as to be unfitted for their parents’ roles, while being fitted for roles not as yet fully determined. Homing pigeons can be taught to fly home, but the inner-directed child must be taught to fly a straight course away from home, with destination unknown; naturally, many meet the fate of Icarus. Nevertheless, the drive instilled in the child is to live up to ideals and to test his ability to be on his own by continuous experiments in self-mastery—instead of by following tradition. (p. 59)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300088655, Paperback)

The Lonely Crowd is considered by many to be the most influential book of the twentieth century. Its now-classic analysis of the 'new middle class' in terms of inner-directed and other-directed social character opened exciting new dimensions in our understanding of the psychological, political, and economic problems that confront the individual in contemporary American society. The 1969 abridged and revised edition of the book is now reissued with a new foreword by Todd Gitlin that explains why the book is still relevant to our own era.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:38 -0400)

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