Harold Lasswell

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Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 — December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a member of the Chicago school of sociology and was a professor at Yale University in law. He was a President of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS). According to a biographical memorial written by Gabriel Almond at the time of Lasswell's death and published by the National Academies of Sciences in 1987, Lasswell "ranked among the half dozen creative innovators in the social sciences in the twentieth century." At the time, Almond asserted that "few would question that he was the most original and productive political scientist of his time." Areas of research in which Lasswell worked included the importance of personality, social structure, and culture in the explanation of political phenomena. He was noted to be ahead of his time in employing a variety of methodological approaches that later became standards across a variety of intellectual traditions including interviewing techniques, content analysis, para-experimental techniques, and statistical measurement.

He is well known for his comment on communications:

and on politics:

and on aberrant psychological attributes of leaders in politics and business:

Lasswell studied at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, and was highly influenced by the pragmatism taught there, especially as propounded by John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. More influential, however, was Freudian philosophy, which informed much of his analysis of propaganda and communication in general. During World War II, Lasswell held the position of Chief of the Experimental Division for the Study of War Time Communications at the Library of Congress. He analyzed Nazi propaganda films to identify mechanisms of persuasion used to secure the acquiescence and support of the German populace for Hitler and his wartime atrocities. Always forward-looking, late in his life, Lasswell experimented with questions concerning astropolitics, the political consequences of colonization of other planets, and the "machinehood of humanity."

Lasswell's work was important in the post-World War II development of behavioralism.

Major works

  • Propaganda Technique in the World War (1927; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1971)
  • Psychopathology and Politics, (1930; reprinted, 1986)
  • World Politics and Personal Insecurity (1935; Reprinted with a new introduction, 1965)
  • Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1935)
  • "The Garrison State" (1941)
  • Power and Personality (1948)

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