Propaganda - Theoretical and Historical Aspects

Term Paper, 2003

23 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)


Table Of Content

1. Introduction

2. Definition of propaganda
2.1 General definition
2.2 Models of propaganda
2.3 Propaganda and Persuasion

3. Historical overview
3.1 The Reformation
3.2 The French Revolution and Napoleon
3.3 German propaganda in the Second World War

4. Analysing propaganda
4.1 Context
4.2 Utilizing the media
4.3 Language

5. Propaganda in action (Gulf War in 1991)
5.1 Ideologies involved
5.2 Context
5.3 Media utilization techniques
5.4 Effectiveness of propaganda

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Propaganda is as old as mankind. People have tried to influence others to achieve certain goals or objectives throughout the ages. What makes propaganda so interesting nowadays, and of special interest for my research paper, is its combination with modern mass media. Using the manifold possibilities offered by the various technologies it is easy to establish a direct channel of communication to every place in the world in not more than a second. And, if you have a channel you can convey your ideas to others and thus gain a huge amount of influence on other people. In times of extensive media coverage, for example of wars, I found it a very interesting, and sometimes disturbing, task to make an introductory analysis of the basic concepts of propaganda illustrated by historical events.

In the first chapter of my paper I will give a rather general definition of the term propaganda and introduce two major models of how propaganda can be conveyed. In the last part of the first chapter I will draw a distinguishing line between propaganda and persuasion. The second chapter consists of a historical overview on propaganda, divided in the periods of the Reformation, the French Revolution including Napoleon and the Second World War with a short paragraph on Adolf Hitler as a constructed leader figure. Analysing the ways propaganda works is one main objective of this paper so the third chapter gives some background on techniques of propaganda analysis followed by the next chapter where I apply these theories to the example of the Gulf War in 1991. The last chapter consists of a short summary and some conclusions.

2. Definition of propaganda

There are many ways of defining propaganda and different fields of science have tried to find a suitable definition.

From the point of view of political science, propaganda is defined as a means to identify the ideologies of the practitioners and to analyse the dissemination and impact of public opinion. Using a sociological approach, propaganda means looking at social movements and the counterpropaganda that emerges in opposition whereas psychologists are more concerned with the effects of propaganda on the individual. There is, however, a recent trend that tries to combine the different fields of science and focuses on the ideological aspects of propaganda and how dominant ideological meanings are constructed in the mass media.[1] In this paper I will use the term propaganda according to this very comprehensive approach as the impact of mass media is a factor comprising all scientific fields mentioned above.

2.1 General definition

Propaganda, in the most neutral sense, means to disseminate or promote particular ideas. In Latin, it meant “to propagate” or “to sow”.[2] Thus the very first definition stems from the word’s origin and means to sow ideas among a group of people. However, in a scholarly discourse more aspects are ascribed to the term propaganda. One aspect is ideology and the other aspect is an objective. Thus it can be said that propaganda happens, when a “[…] deliberate process is linked with a clear institutional ideology and objective.”[3] Following this definition, the mere utterance of an opinion in a group of people cannot be described as propaganda because it lacks both the institutional aspect and the aspect of purposefulness. On the other hand the effort of a government agency to instill a massive wave of patriotism in a national audience to support a war effort or a corporation attempting to promote its image in order to attract more customers can be seen as examples for propaganda. These examples show that propaganda is defined by a predetermined plan that is communicated to an audience in order to fulfil a certain objective.

2.2 Models of propaganda

To achieve a high effectiveness of propaganda it is necessary to keep the audience unaware of the source of message that is conveyed or to ascribe a high degree of legitimization to the source. This can be done in various ways but I will concentrate on two basic models.

In the first model (Fig. 1) the propagandist (P) creates a “deflective source”[4] (P1) which becomes the apparent source of the message (M). The receiver (R) perceives the information as coming directly from P1 and does not associate it with the original propagandist. Using this model of deception it is possible to convey a message without being identified as the sender.

Fig. 1 Deflective source model[5]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The second model (Fig. 2) is used to create a “legitimizing source” (P2) in which the original message (M1) is secretly placed. This message (now M2), as interpreted by P2, is now picked up by the propagandist (P) and communicated to the receiver (R) in the form M3, as having come from P2. This legitimizes the message and, at the same time, covers the tracks of the propagandist.

Fig.2 Legitimizing source model[6]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

One can see that in both models the propagandist’s intent is to obscure his identity and so thus to create a high degree of credibility for both message and apparent source.

2.3 Propaganda and Persuasion

Persuasion can be conceived as one means of propaganda used to convey arguments, ideas and ideologies to a receiver. Persuasion itself uses different ways and means to fulfil this task, most of them working in a rather subtle way. One pre-condition for persuasion to work is that sender and receiver are linked by symbols through which the persuader attempts to influence the persuadee to change his attitude towards a certain issue.[7] The process of persuasion is an interactive one in which the recipient foresees the fulfilment of a personal or societal need or desire, and thus makes persuasion appear more satisfying for the receiver than pure propaganda because he is integrated in the process.[8] In general, practitioners of persuasion assume that the audience has access to information about the other side of a controversial issue as well as exposure to counterpersuasion. In other words, there is recognition that any change that occurs within audience perceptions or behaviours will be voluntary change. Both parties, persuader and persuadee, perceive the change due to persuasion as mutually beneficial.

A propagandist is very likely to appear as a persuader that appears to satisfy mutual needs. In reality, however, the propagandist wants to promote his own ideas and ideology. The propagandist does not regard the interests of the audience as primary concern. More often than not, he conceals not only his true purpose to deceive the audience but also tries to conceal his identity for the sake of protection and the enhancement of credibility. The propagandist seeks to control the flow of information, manage public opinion and manipulated the behaviour of the audience. These kind of objectives might not be achieved if their true intent were known of if their real source were revealed.

As a result it can be said that persuasion is a method that uses consensus between sender and receiver and is used by propagandists in a devious and deceitful way to convey ideas and ideologies in the disguise of consensus and seemingly mutual benefit.

3. Historical overview

The use of propaganda as a means of controlling information flow, managing public opinion or manipulating behaviour is as old as recorded history. The concept of persuasion has been an essential part of human nature used by priests or rulers to secure their positions of power and as a means to gather support. A very good example for this is the rise of Christianity to a world religion.

Mass propaganda started with the invention of the movable type printing press in the time of the Reformation when it was possible for the first time to convey information to a large audience in rather short time. Another milestone was the usage of propaganda during the French Revolution where newspapers were used to influence public opinion and a heroic image of Napoleon was created afterwards. Propagandistic ways of influencing people reached a new level when the Nazi regime in Germany used the mass media to manipulate the German people into supporting a war that could not be won.


[1] Burnett, N. F. S. Ideology and propaganda: Toward an integrative approach. In T. Smith III (Ed.), Propaganda: a pluralistic perspective. pp. 115-126, New York: 1989

[2] Stowasser, J. M. Der Kleine Stowasser. Lateinisch-Deutsches Wärterbuch. München: 1980

[3] Jowett, G. S. / O’Donnel, Victoria. Propaganda and Persuasion. Newbury Park : 1992 p. 12

[4] Ibid. p.15

[5] Ibid. p.16

[6] Ibid.

[7] Pörksen, Bernhard. Die Konstruktion von Feindbildern. Wiesbaden: 2000

[8] Jowett / O’Donnell 1992

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Propaganda - Theoretical and Historical Aspects
University of Kassel  (Anglistics)
History of the Media
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
788 KB
Propaganda, Theoretical, Historical, Aspects, History, Media
Quote paper
Christof Dieterle (Author), 2003, Propaganda - Theoretical and Historical Aspects, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Propaganda - Theoretical and Historical Aspects

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free