(By no means is this complete, but I have to start someplace)

I.               Introduction.

Intentional propaganda is the systematic propagation of ideas in a deliberate manner in order to encourage or instill a particular attitude or response and it is a broad and infinite subject.  In other words, it is deliberate and intended.  Here I am only concerned with small group propaganda.  While there has been much research done on the larger subject of propaganda in the past and the present, whether military-, media-, political-, or the various aspects of the most common types of public relations-propaganda:  advertising, marketing, and publicity, there has been little research done on small groups and small group propaganda.   In small groups, this occurs intentionally and unintentionally.  In this, I propose to briefly research intentional propaganda as disseminated by large media companies, government, political parties, political candidates, and the like as it filters into small groups where it unintentionally spreads.

Propaganda occurs in the day to day but few consciously notice it.  It is ever present, ever influencing, and officially ignored by our family, friends, and neighbors unless it is by conservatives to discuss the propaganda techniques of the liberals and the liberal press, recognizing the tactics of the “enemy” but never one’s own.  Interestingly, enough it is rarely something that liberals will point to conservatives to definitively accuse.  Propaganda is also rarely noticed in small groups in the real world or in the virtual world of the Internet, No one notices it in their discussions, in their likes, in their fashion and political choices, or even in their decisions influenced by other friends and acquaintances.

While propaganda is a fairly broad term and carries with it a negative connotation in the minds of the general public, the various forms of propaganda that are familiar, briefly mentioned above, are fairly specific and not readily recognized as propaganda.  The history of propaganda in this country was adversarial, used as a war term to describe the negative intents of a military enemy during World War I.  Edward Bernays who was responsible for creating this negative mindset in the minds of the United States Public, decided that that negative intention had to be transformed into something inoccuous by creating new terminology that was unfamiliar to the public.  He therefore transliterated propaganda into Public Relations.  From here, advertising, marketing, publicity, and the like, became its children.  Here, in order to return these derived propagandist concepts to their rightful origin, in order to reorient the public to their real intent, these terms will be hyphenated with their original, i.e. advertising-propaganda, marketing-propaganda, publicity-propaganda, and possible others.  To clarify, advertising-propaganda is a paid product or company announcement in one or all of various media outlets, whether television, radio, magazine, Internet or elsewhere.  Marketing-propaganda is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers. Publicity-propaganda is the business of promotion or advertising to attract public notice.  In reality, there seems little to distinguish one of these from the other.  However, since Bernays time, the industry has insisted on these gray-area distinctions so they deserved clarification here.

I will especially focus on unintentional propaganda or concealed propaganda (derived from intentional propaganda above), propaganda that is disseminated within small groups of people, the types of propaganda that do not “look like” propaganda to the naked eye.  For example, the standard view of distorted history that we were taught in grade school by our teachers fits so well into actual public opinion-propaganda that it is considered an automatic “fact,” one that only a historian or an extreme radical would question or notice.  The “likes” of various products, events, and companies by our friends on the front page of our Facebook accounts are another form of unintentional propaganda where a product is liked and talked about where our friends are not paid marketing-propagandists for the companies or products in question. The same occurs in the day-to-day conversations I have observed in public where one person talks about their latest electronic purchase or what he or she ate for lunch, for example.   While it is completely intentional by the companies in question, the dissemination of that advertising-, marketing, or public relations-propaganda by our friends is unintentional or concealed in that they are not consciously or deliberately promoting or even aware that they are promoting it, and they are obviously not paid advertising-, marketing-, or public relations-propagandists for the products, companies, or events.

Specifically, for this research proposal, I am interested in the relationship(s) between local musicians and their fans, where local musicians “fight” for promotional-propaganda space in the interested minds of their potential audience in the same way as the larger labels and the major media conglomerates.  This “fight” becomes one where musical artists utilize their own intentional propaganda to promote their music and their local, regional, and national music tours as well as their musical product.  Realistically, an artist does not have the large budget(s) of the media conglomerates so he, she, or they improvise(s) with what is available:  a real and virtual social network of fans who are unintentional propagandists who engage one another by talking to their friends and acquaintances about their favorite music and their favorite bands without deliberately intending to engage in promotional-propaganda.  Rather, their intention is to tell their friends about the music they are hearing, hope that their friends will appreciate it as much as they do, start exploring it, and tell their friends and acquaintances.  The cycle is and can be endless.


II.        Conceptual Framework

This research proposal will take a symbolic interactionist perspective on small group propaganda (Blumer, 1969; Goffman, 1959; Goffman, 1974) that builds upon the literature of propaganda studies (Doob, 1935; Doob, 1946, 1948; Ellul, 1965) and build upon participant interviews, observations, and participant conversations.  From this vantage point theorizing, interpreting, and engaging the world and constructing a grounded theory in order to understand how small group propaganda operates within the context of propaganda in general.  Specifically, I am interested in how intentional and unintentional propaganda operates within the small group dynamic of local, independent, and unsigned bands, their fans, and the friends of those fans as well as the extent of the propaganda in question.

Literature that deals specifically with small group propaganda, intentional and unintentional is limited within Leonard W. Doob’s Public Opinion and Propaganda (1946, 1966), Propaganda:  It’s Psychology And Technique (1935), and Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda:  The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1965).  However, both are the most detailed discussion of propaganda as a whole to date.  Influence within small groups, i.e. symbolic interactionism is discussed at length within Goffman (1959, 1974), Blumer (1969), and Mead (1935)

There is little current literature specifically related to small group propaganda, but there is a more thorough discussion of the symbolic interactionism of small groups within various subcultures in two longitudinal studies:  Pam Hunt’s Where the Music Takes You:  The Social Psychology of Music Subcultures (2013) and Lisiunia Romanienko’s Body Piercing And Identity Construction (2011).

Within Hunt, there is discussion of cognitive social schemas as they relate to group dynamics and what is and what is not acceptable behavior within a particular social group.  This behavior extends to musical discussions and musical appreciation within the group as well as new music to be introduced to the group.  Significant symbols, whether they are of mainstream culture (rejected or accepted) or of the particular subculture, are also discussed in this context.  It is this particular acceptance or denial in its relation to promoting, reinforcing, or denying specific ideas, concepts, and objects that is of particular interest.

Within Romanienko, the discussion of subcultures and influence probes much deeper than a single varied (musical) subculture and explores several related subcultures ethnographically over the course of a longer period of study.  These groups may appear to be externally unrelated but are internally united by their “membership” within the body modification community.  Communication within these groups takes on the same characteristics observed above:  Significant symbols of acceptance, denial, and persuasion are communicated from member to member within each small group.  Significant symbolic texts within these small groups are reduced to tattoos, piercings, and articles of clothing with specific meanings within each group.  This textual symbolism is the same that exists within the relationship between music artists and music fans.


III.           Research Questions

The classic literature exploring propaganda has looked seldom at small groups with as much detail as it has looked at “traditional” propaganda on the mass level. The past and current literature on symbolic interactions and small groups discuss the influence of individuals within small groups but it has not looked at propaganda as a phenomenon within those small groups.  In this, I propose to unite the study of propaganda with the study of small groups, studying and analyzing the symbolic interactionism of propaganda in small groups, engaging the world and constructing a grounded theory.  I want to better understand how small group propaganda operates within the context of propaganda in general.

In this study, I propose to ask the following research questions: 1. To what extent does propaganda exist in small groups in the physical and the virtual worlds? 2. How is propaganda generally used within these small group contexts?  While propaganda has been studied before, from a biased perspective of opposition and a rarely from an objective perspective (Doob, 1935, 1946; Ellul, 1965), it has never been academically studied from the point-of-view of a small group.  Other questions may arise that will need to be address but they will relate to the main research questions asked above.


IV.           Research Methods

Research will be gathered through data collection of interviews and extensive observations of small groups in live music settings as well as small groups in larger gatherings of festival-sized concerts and social networks through the Internet.  Data analysis of interviews from respondents will be combined with data analysis of additional study results to fully explore propaganda in its small group context.  It is these results that will be applied to propaganda in its wider context and to perhaps continue work into the small group propaganda nuances in another small group.


V.             Validity

To deal with any bias in the study and the results, I will exercise extensive reflection and reflexivity in each small group member interview and observational setting while observing any similarities and contrasts that exist between groups.  To deal with any reactivity, I will engage with each interview respondent extensively to determine the depth of their understanding of the small group propaganda that they are using within their small group or groups.

Ultimately, this study is designed to be generalizable to the larger population and other small groups, whether they are mainstream, whether they are a subculture small group, or whether they are a loose collection of individuals forming small groups occasionally or rarely over time. This study is designed to verify that propaganda is used to influence large groups and each member of those large groups as they individually and unintentionally influence their friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances.


VI.         Conclusions

While propaganda has a negative connotation in this country, it nonetheless exists in the embodiment of its transliterations:  public relations-propaganda, advertising-propaganda, marketing-propaganda, and others.  In the mind of the general public, propaganda is viewed as something that the enemy engages in, something that a government that is adversarial to one’s political ideas does.  It is something that is viewed as having a less than noble purpose, something evil, akin to what the Germans did in World War II, and something the communists did during the Cold War.  It is generally not viewed as something that is performed and perpetuated by television stations, news media, advertising agencies, or multibillion-dollar corporations.  And it is certainly not viewed as something that is unintentionally perpetuated by individuals in small groups.

But propaganda is all of those things individually and collectively.  The results will verify the goals of this study of intentional and unintentional propaganda in small groups.  It is something that is ever present and “ignored”.  It proliferates our society to such a point that the general public knows it is there because they discuss it individually, but they don’t see it.  This study aims to study propaganda in small groups, how it is perpetuated unintentionally, and to teach inform the academic and general publics that it is everywhere.  It is at this point of the results that the research will not conclude but will continue as I research with others, propaganda in other venues, in other small groups, to determine the extent of propaganda in these other areas and to inform the public what propaganda is on a deeper level.


Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Goffman, E. (1973). The presentation of self in everyday life. Woodstock, N.Y: Overlook Press.

Hunt, P. (2013), Where the Music Takes You:  The Social Psychology of Music Subcultures. United States:  Cognella Academic Publishing

Mead, G. H., & In Morris, C. W. (1934). Mind, self & society from the standpoint of a social behaviorist. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Romanienko, L. A. (2011). Body piercing and identity construction: A comparative perspective—New York, New Orleans, Wrocław. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.