Propaganda researchers study systematic attempts to influence audience perceptions and behavior. This area of scholarship is intrinsically interdisciplinary, with findings emerging from such fields as anthropology, art, communication, computer science, history, psychology, and sociology. Some propaganda scholars measure outcomes, while others analyze themes, techniques, and campaign strategies without making claims about audience effects. Quantitative and qualitative research methods are commonly used, with many scholars incorporating a mixed-method approach.
Many excellent works frame the study of propaganda in general terms. Bernays 1933 and Doob 1935 are useful for researchers seeking a thorough historical grounding, while Jowett and O’Donnell 1986, Pratkanis and Aronson 1992, and Rushkoff 1999 are more accessible to contemporary audiences. Ellul 1965 is essential reading for serious researchers, but the author’s dense prose may be difficult for some undergraduates. McLuhan 1964 and Orwell 1941 are more accessible works, both have become paradigm writers for the student of propaganda in our world. Orwell's insights have proven timeless, as relevant today as they were 70 years ago and McLuhan is not far behind.
Bernays, Edward L. 1933. Propaganda. New York: Liveright.
After discussing the role of propaganda during World War I, Bernays explains how the same techniques can be applied to public relations, political campaigns, women’s suffrage, social services, the arts, and education.
Doob, Leonard William. 1935. Propaganda: Its psychology and technique. New York: Henry Holt.
Situating propaganda analysis within the realm of social psychology, Doob classifies different forms of propaganda, investigates psychological factors that reinforce or undermine its effectiveness, and identifies eight fundamental principles of propaganda.
Ellul, Jacques. 1965. Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. New York: Knopf.
Firmly situated in the European tradition, this book argues that propaganda is ubiquitous, inevitable, and dehumanizing. The author elaborates a comprehensive framework for understanding propaganda’s characteristics, motivations, psychological outcomes, and sociopolitical effects.
McLuhan Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media
The Extensions of Man is essential reading for anyone aspiring to understand modern media and its role in manipulating, conditioning and controlling the message (and therefore society).
Jowett, Garth, and Victoria O’Donnell. 1986. Propaganda and persuasion. People and communication 18. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.
In this accessible work aimed at college undergraduates, the authors differentiate propaganda from persuasion, trace the historical growth of propaganda since imperial Rome, review methods for researching and analyzing propaganda, and develop five case studies of both domestic and international propaganda.
Orwell, George. 1941-1942. All Art Is Propaganda & All Art Is Lies: Critical Essays. Houghton Mifflin - Random House - Various.
Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, is a seminal essayist, decades ahead of his time. In no small way, Orwell wrote the book on propaganda in society and his essays are characterised by accessible lucid prose. Orwell is the 20th century paradigm of an awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of honest social democracy.
Pratkanis, Anthony R., and Elliot Aronson. 1992. Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Written for a general audience, this introductory text is both rigorous and accessible. The work covers psychological predispositions, elements of communicator credibility, emotional appeals, rhetorical strategy, and easily grasped techniques of propaganda analysis.
Rushkoff, Douglas. 1999. Coercion: Why we listen to what “they” say. New York: Riverhead.
Rushkoff explores the ubiquitous presence of persuasive messaging in contemporary life. Along with familiar topics such as public relations and advertising, Rushkoff includes chapters on atmospherics, spectacle, pyramid schemes, and online marketing.