Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Riesman - The Lonely Crowd

Riesman, David, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney. The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.

The social character of the American people has shifted from "inner-directed" - those who internalize authority, as pioneers and individualists - to "other-directed" - those whose characteris formed through their peer-relationships. Riesman believes this occurs in all civilizations as they move from a period of rapid population growth to population equilibrium.

The underlying theory draws from and wrestles with both Weber's broad perspective of social changes in history, and Freud's conception of personality developing in childhood. Riesman believes character development has been changed by the many new influences on children outside of the home. These influences are tied to the development of history as evidenced most broadly by population change.

Riesman is careful throughout not to criticize "other-directness" and idealize "inner-directness," often resisting the label of "social criticism" for the book. But there is certainly social criticism here.

Key Terms (Note: Riesman admits this are ideal rather than real concepts)
high growth potential - no or slow growth rate, high birth and death rate.
tradition-directed people - not concerned with progress. Intent on continuing life as their ancestors did. Goals are established by the community to meet expected role.

transitional population growth - advances in health, technology, food production, etc lead to decreasing death rate. Population growth is high.
inner-directed people - tendency early in life to internalize a set of goals, inspired to do better than parents.

incipient population decline - death rate and birth rate regain equilibrium while life expectancy remains longer
other-directed people - tendency to be sensitized to the expectations and preferences of others

Key Developments
Morality - system of how you treat others - is important conforming system for inner-directed, while morale - system of how you feel and how you make others feel - is important conforming system for other-directed.

Parents play a much larger role in personal development for tradition-directed and inner-directed. Other-directed have a wider variety of influences: parents, teachers, peers, song and story, mass media.

Memory of the Book
Riesman acknowledges that he finds "other-directed people" mainly in the rising urban middle class. This is, indeed, how this book has come to be remembered for typifying the 1950s: the suited businessmen working in large organizations, the suburb as a false retreat, the rise of new prosperity inducing accumulation of material goods aimed at feeding the inner desires, the strong conformity from behavior to dress to politics. And yet, it was written in 1950 and reflects 30s and 40s characteristics.

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