SOCIOLOGY, SOCIAL CRITIC, PUBLIC OPINION
Learning outcomes of the course unit
Knows the main perspectives and the main authors who contributed to the reflection on public opinion during the last century; knows how to contextualize them with respect to social, structural and cultural transformations characterizing the transition from modernity to late modernity; know some basic sociological categories; develop critical and learning skills, in particular by comparing divergent conceptions of public opinion – public opinion as an object of power or as a force for social change. The drafting (optional) of a short in-depth text to complete the exam allows for the exercise of both judgment autonomy and written communication skills.
Course contents summary
The course analyses public opinion, and its transformations, as a social phenomenon from 1900 to today. The course is divided into three parts.
The first exposes the characteristics of modern society, in the first half of 1900 and the contemporary perspectives on public opinion by Bernays, Lippmann, Lazarsfeld and the Frankfurt School.
The second part of the course exposes the transition from modern society to late-modern society - or global market society since the 70s - and contemporary perspectives on public opinion by Bourdieu, Noelle-Newman and Habermas.
The third part of the course analyses the 2008 crisis as a moment of transformation, with respect to previous decades, of cultural ideals and social practices of production, consumption and democratic participation whose outcomes, still open, concern the future of public opinion.
The course analyses public opinion as a social phenomenon, characterizing western democracies, during the '900 to the present day.
The course is divided into three parts.
In the first part, a general introduction is offered on the origins of the notion of public opinion in Western democracies and on the definitions that have been proposed and on open issues. The conceptual constellation in which public opinion, as a social phenomenon, is placed, includes sociological issues as social order and change, elites and masses, consensus and criticism, media and democracy as a form of government.
The structural and cultural transformations characterizing the first half of the 20th century are exposed. This is the modern era, in which the previous social order is transformed, among other factors, by the two world wars, by the diffusion of the media (mostly nationals) and by production and mass consumption. These factors influence contemporary theories of public opinion, including the perspective of propaganda (Bernais), the distortion of the real (Lippmann), the opinion survey (Lazarsfeld) and the cultural industry (Frankfurt School).
The second part of the course exposes the crisis of the modern social order - of which the critique of European 1968 constitutes a salient moment - and the formation of the new late-modern social order, which characterizes the following decades. It is embodied by the global market society, which is analysed with particular reference to the diffusion of technology, new media and new modes of production and consumption in the context of globalization. To understand the change in public opinion, power and democracy, sociological topics such as the crisis of social bonds and representation and the individualization of living conditions are highlighted. The reference here is the empirical turn of contemporary social theory: the contemporary perspectives on public opinion that have already become classics (Bourdieu, Noelle-Newman, Habermas) are discussed.
The third part of the course focus on the 2008 crisis as a moment of transformation, with respect to previous decades, of cultural ideals and social practices of production, consumption and democratic participation whose outcomes, still open, concern the future of public opinion. Both the optimistic view about the potential opened up by new media and the pessimistic view on the end of social discourse are discussed, in terms of civic engagement at a global and local level.
For attending and non-attending students:
- Crisante S., L’onda anonima, Meltemi 2017 - of this text the following parts are to be studied: Lippmann (pp.43-56), Lazarsfeld (pp. 98-118), Habermas (pp. 119-147), Bourdieu (pp. 182-201), Noelle-Neumann (pp. 183-202)
- Ferri M., L’opinione pubblica in democrazia, Mimesis 2017 - to be studied: introduction and chapters 4, 5, 6
- Gherardi L. La dotazione. L’azione sociale oltre la giustizia, Mimesis 2018 – to be studied: chapters 1 and 2
Lessons in presence - general sanitary conditions considered -, registered and charged on Elly platform; commented lecture of the proposed authors. The interaction students - teacher is explicitly stimulated by proposing discussion of contents at the end of each lesson and by meetings on Teams on demand. At the end of the course, on the Elly platform, a list of the main authors, topics and categories treated in class will be published, as well as an extensive bibliography and supplementary materials, on specific topics, for attending students and non-attending students who wish to carry out a brief in-depth text (optional) for the exam.
Assessment methods and criteria
The exam is oral and focuses on the main topics of the course of which at the end of the course a list is provided on the Elly platform.
Depending on general sanitary conditions, the exam could be on-line on Teams.
Fail: less than approximate or wrong knowledge about the topic
18-21: elementary knowledge of the topic, and/or improper knowledge, partial capacity for presentation and argumentation.
22-25: Fair knowledge of the topic, fairly solid presentation and argumentation capacity
26-29: Good knowledge or very good knowledge of the topic, good or very good presentation and argumentation capacity.
30: precise knowledge of the topic, optimal presentation and argumentation capacity
30 cum laude: precise knowledge of the topic, optimal presentation and argumentation capacity, pertinent personal re-elaboration of the knowledge
It is possible, both for attending students and non-attending students, to present a short optional text, on a topic chosen by the course, based on the reading of a book's chapter indicated as non compulsory for the exam form the main bibliography or based on on the reading at least one further text among those suggested in the supplementary bibliography (available on the Elly platform). The text (8-10 pages) will be sent to the teacher via email at least three days before the date of the appeal. The optional in-depth text will be evaluated from 0 to 3 points, which may be added to the oral grade.
The attribution of the score (from 0 to 3 points) to the optional text depends on the following criteria: consistency with the topics of the course, originality, ability to study in depth and critical discussion of the chosen topic, expository capacity and quality of writing.