What is Propaganda?

  • Propaganda is the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols. (Lasswell, 1927 p. 627)
  • A consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group. (Bernays, 1928, p. 52 in 2005 edition)
  • An expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends. (Miller, 1939).
  • A process which deliberately attempts through persuasion-techniques to secure from the propagandee, before he can deliberate freely, the responses desired by the propagandist (Henderson, 1943, p. 83).
  • The attempt to affect the personalities and to control the behavior of individuals towards ends considered unscientific or of doubtful value in a society at a particular time. (Doob, 1948, p. 240)
  • Biased communication is a sophisticated term for propaganda, a word feared or avoided by all objective people and therefore a source of darkness and obscurity since nobody wants to talk about it but nevertheless everybody uses it. (Dovring & Lasswell, 1959, p. 5)
  • The deliberate attempt by some individual or group to form, control, or alter the attitudes of other groups by the use of the instruments of communication, with the intention that in any given situation the reaction of those so influenced will be that desired by the propagandist (Qualter, 1962, p. 27).
  • A set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization. (Ellul, 1965, p. 61)
  • Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. (Jowett and O’Donell, 1986, p. 7 in 2015 edition)
  • Any conscious and open attempt to influence the beliefs of an individual or group, guided by a predetermined end and characterized by the systematic use of irrational and often unethical techniques of persuasion (Smith, 1989, p. 80).
  • Communication to convey a message, an idea, or an ideology that is designed primarily to serve the self-interests of the person doing the communicating (Taylor, 1990, p. 7)
  • Mass suggestion or influence through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of individual. (Pratkanis and Aronson, 1992, p.11)
  • Propaganda represents the work of large organizations or groups to win over the public for special interests through a massive orchestration of attractive conclusions packaged to conceal both their persuasive purpose and lack of sound supporting reasons (Sproule, 1994, p. 8).
  • Communications where the form and content is selected with the single-minded purpose of bringing some target audience to adopt attitudes and beliefs chosen in advance by the sponsors of communications. (Carey, 1997, p. 20).
  • Strategically devised messages that are disseminated to masses of people by an institution for the purpose of generating action benefiting its source. (Parry-Giles, 2002, p. xxvi)
  • The organized attempt through communication to affect belief or action or inculcate attitudes in a large audience in ways that circumvent or suppress an individual’s adequately informed, rational, reflective judgment. (Marlin, 2013, p. 12)
  • Propaganda is manipulation of the rational will to close of debate (Stanley, 2015, p. 48).


Lasswell, H. D. (1927). The theory of political propaganda. The American Political Science Review, 21, 3, 627-631.

Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Ig Publishing, Brooklyn: NY.

Miller, C. R. (1939). How to detect and analyze propaganda. Town Hall pamphlet: An address delivered at Town Hall. Town Hall, Inc.

Henderson, E. H. (1943). Toward definition of propaganda. Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 71-87.

Doob, L. W. (1948). Public opinion and propaganda. New York: Henry Holt.

Dovring, K., & Lasswell, H.D. (1959). Road of propaganda. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc.

Qualter, T. H. (1962). Propaganda and psychological warfare. New York: Random House.

Ellul, J. (1965). Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Jowett, G. S., & O’Donnell, V. (1986). Propaganda and persuasion. Sage.

Smith, T. J., III (Ed.). (1989). Propaganda: A pluralistic perspective. New York: Praeger.

Taylor, P. M. (1990). Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda. Manchester University Press.

Pratkanis, A. R., & Aronson, E. (1992). Age of propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. W. H. Freeman and Company.

Sproule, J.M. (1994). Channels of propaganda. EDINFO Press and ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication. Bloomington, IN.

Carey, A. (1997). Taking the risk out of democracy: Corporate propaganda versus freedom and liberty (A. Lohrey, Ed.) Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Parry-Giles, S. J. (2002). The rhetorical presidency, propaganda, and the Cold War: 1945-1955. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Marlin, R. (2013). Propaganda and the ethics of persuasion. Broadview Press.

Stanley, J. (2015). How propaganda works. Princeton University Press.

One thought on “What is Propaganda?

  1. Interesting differences among the three definitions listed. It would be useful to expand
    these definitions to include what evidence is needed to qualify various examples as
    constituting propaganda.

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