The Lonely Crowd Turns 60



In October 1950 David Riesman, Nathan Glazer, and Reuel Denney published The Lonely Crowd, a sociological analysis of the “American character.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education has a short piece, authored by Rupert Wilkinson, on the significance of this landmark work in sociology and American studies.  Here is a taste:

The book spoke to middle-class concerns about conformity and softness in the new, standardized suburbs of postwar America. For all its moralistic rigidities, the inner-directed type looked more individualistic, hence more attractive to many Americans, though Riesman insisted that in other-direction he did not depict more conformity but rather a change in “modes of conformity”—the way people were induced to conform…

…It was the first book to stress a change in modern society from a culture of production and scarcity to one of consumption as a social act—from making things to relating to people, from “the hardness of the material,” as the authors put it, to the softer touch of consumer-focused sales and services. In politics Riesman coined one of his many engaging labels, the “inside-dopester,” to describe a person drawn to political life as a consumer, eager to be in the know rather than to make policy. (At the time of writing the book, Riesman and Glazer were much concerned about voter “apathy,” which they connected to a passive, consumer view of politics.)

Read Wilkinson’s full and insightful analysis here.