History: France – 19th Century

Auguste Comte & Gustave Le Bon

The SP that emerged in France in the 19th Century

Characterised by Le Bon’s reading of “the social” as a “crowd mentality”
(Stenner, 2017)

Roots in the French Revolution of 1789, and the”positivistic social science” based on the writing of Auguste Comte.

Apparently, Comte argued for the application of positivistic science to social questions. For example, through his three historical stages of human knowledge:

1: Theological-fictitious; 2: metaphysical-abstract; 3: scientific-positive”

The “french” SP, such as that of Le Bon, displayed a focus on experimental psychology – it foregrounded the rational scienctific knowledge of the individual over the dangers and illusions of “collective psychology”.

Le Bon, Gustave (1895) The Crowd: a Study of the Popular Mind, London, Benn (this edition 1947).

“a key figure was Gustave Le Bon who wrote a book called The Crowd after witnessing the violent crowd events associated with the Paris Commune in 1871 (Le Bon, 1895)… Le Bon, a conservative reactionary who had been an eyewitness to these scenes, went on to develop a social psychology of crowds. This was based on the idea that when people gather in crowds they lose the capacity to reason; they revert to a primitive and bestial stage of humanity with a ‘collective psychology’ that is quite different from the kind of psychology each crowd member has as an isolated individual.” (Stenner, 2017, p. 3)

Influenced Hitler and Mussolini’s populist strategies (according to Stenner)

The social: “crowds and public gatherings”; “The Crowd”; “collective mentality”; “collective representations (see Durkheim).

All the above is based on the Paul Stenner text “A contextual overview of the historical emergence of social psychology” available in Week 2, Independent Study, of the DD317 OU Study Guide.