Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 23: Assemblies and Publics

Emory S. Bogardus

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THE assembly, another theater of intersocial stimulation, differs vitally from crowds and mobs. It is a group of people in which thought rather than feeling is the common bond. Like the crowd it varies in size from the casual meeting of two persons to an orderly legislative or deliberative assembly or forum. Its average size is less than that of crowds. In fact, when an assembly becomes large it assumes crowd traits.

An assembly is characterized by self restraint and thoughtfulness, but being composed of people with feelings it easily degenerates into a crowd. When the struggle between ideas becomes keen, feelings are almost certain to flare out, and a crowd condition develops. An assembly is so closely related to the crowd that it is subject to reversion any moment to the crowd and even to the mob. Although in an assembly persons are normally under control of cultural habits and parliamentary rules of order, they may degenerate.

The parliamentary rules that govern assemblies have been compared to a straight jacket upon a monster which is in constant danger of breaking loose.[1] Rules of order function in keeping feelings down and the reason in charge. "Personalities," i. e., personal remarks, are taboo, in order that personal feelings may not be stirred and feeling contagion be stimulated. The chair must always be addressed, so that speech shall be impersonal. The voting must be aye and nay,—a relatively colorless way of expressing any pronounced or prejudiced feeling reactions that may be fomenting. Order must at all times be observed, for the only way to stop crowd disorder is at its very outset.

Parliamentary rules at best are brittle hoops that easily snap. Let one man contradict another sharply and the two may rush together with clenched fists and angry shouts, even though the assembly be a Chamber of Deputies. Let the smell of smoke and the ringing cry of "Fire" enter a crowded church and the solemn assembly will burst the bonds of propriety, custom, and reverence, and transform itself into a fighting mob, trampling women and children under foot.

( 269) The chief trait of assembly is discussion. The member does not simply bring his ideas and put them into a collection basket together with the ideas of other members, but in and through the discussion, new ideas are created. One not only learns from the others, but may be stimulated by the discussion to think new ideas. In the realms of thought and will the assembly may be highly creative.[2]

To get at the difference between crowd behavior and assembly behavior compare the conduct of the leader of a crowd with that of an assembly leader. The one shouts, gesticulates wildly, shakes his fist provocatively in the face of his audience, becomes "oratorical," and dogmatizes, trying to make his hearers feel that he is their master and that they must obey; the other presents facts quietly, straightforwardly, elicits discussion, and calls for new ideas. The crowd leader sways his group; the assembly leader acts as a guide, seeing that each member has an opportunity to present any facts that he may possess or any creative thought that participation in group discussion may stimulate. The crowd leader encourages choice, but choice in the direction he desires ; in other words, he prevents all genuine choice; he is a dictator, a propagandist. The assembly leader is a participator; he leads only as a director of discussion and a conserver of the creative thinking that the group discussion may generate.

Visit a courtroom and listen to a lawyer arguing before a jury; then listen to one presenting the facts before a judge—the difference between a crowd leader and an assembly leader is at once apparent. Attend a debating society and notice how each debater carefully avoids certain data and exploits others, how he shouts at his listeners, how he becomes sarcastic regarding his opponents and their arguments—for crowd effects—and how he deliberately deceives. Lust for victory overshadows regard for the truth. Now, observe the leader in a small study discussion group. Having no "axe to grind," he skilfully brings each individual to his highest level of participation and creativeness.


It is in a committee meeting that we find some of the best characteristics of an assembly. The group is small ; there is no need for shouting, for wild appeal to the feelings. One who starts off on a high key is made to feel ridiculous. Although there is a chairman, anyone has

( 270) freedom to speak, and may have full opportunity to do so unless some member of the committee, as is sometimes the case, is over-talkative.

The constitution of a committee is generally representative. Persons having had a variety of experiences bring together a wealth of ideas, and hence are able when interstimulation is surging high, to make suggestions and to do creative thinking that no one of them could achieve alone.

The purpose of a committee meeting is usually two-fold—to plan and to do. Each member works out his plans before coming to the meeting : these are based on careful thought and different types of experience. These plans are pooled, which suggests new and better plans. The committee meeting attains its chief function when the ideas of each one stimulate the rest to think new ideas. At its best the committee becomes thus a creative group.

In order to be most effective a committee must be ruled not by the spirit of conflict and compromise, but rather by the spirit of co-creating. Each member must realize that opposing ideas are often complementary. The question at times is not, Shall this idea or that one be adopted, but rather, How can these "opposing" ideas be integrated into a larger whole Rome and Carthage were complementary in many ways ; they were not "natural enemies" but natural friends, and might have worked together so as to have made the Mediterranean a relatively permanent center o human civilization. But the vision of both was too limited. France and Germany, likewise, are not "natural enemies," but natural friends, being complementary to one another in many things, and together they hold the possibilities of a marvelous, world-helping civilization. The social sciences are not mutual enemies although their spokesmen have frequently conducted themselves that way. Neither are the physical and social sciences natural antagonists, nor are science and religion. The goal of a meeting of the representatives of opposing beliefs should be not victory for one side or the other, but the working out of a large entity in which seemingly contradictory beliefs function harmoniously.

Despite its excellent possibilities, a committee meeting, however, is generally shunned as wasteful of time and energy, because of wrong attitudes on the part of the members and poor direction. The chairman often fails to see that all the facts relative to the object of the meeting are presented in order and quickly. The discussion thus becomes merely an airing of opinions. The chairman may fail to keep to the main theme, or fail to keep the members to the theme. Not all members come to the meeting prepared to contribute something of value and to do creative

( 271) thinking.[3] If these evils were forestalled the average committee meeting could accomplish far more in much less time than is ordinarily the case.


A public lecture with an open forum at the close constitutes another type of assembly. In this case the people have come together to learn of a new project or idea, to hear both sides of a question impartially presented, to think on an important issue. The speaker aims to be scientific, to discriminate between facts and prejudices or biases. He talks naturally rather than "orates." At the close of the address anyone may ask any reasonable questions for further enlightenment. The group is led to think primarily not this way or that, but together.

In a socialized recitation group the principles of an assembly assume n excellent form. The class is divided into small groups, which choose leaders. Under the direction of the leader, assignments of work are prepared, and presented to the class. According to the fully developed group recitation method each pupil is stimulated to prepare materials for class presentation ; he becomes a temporary leader of his group, receives training in directing the other group members to prepare work for the given class; he is given a full opportunity to appear before the class and lead their thinking, and as a class member, acts in the r˘le of a questioner, a critic, and co÷perator. The teacher becomes a director of whole process, while the pupil receives a liberal measure of training a creative group member.


The assembly is one of the most useful types of temporary human grouping. Time, expense, and energy are saved by getting people to come together and by stimulating them to think together rather than as separate individuals scattered here and there. To assemble people and present them the facts impartially secures better results in the long run than to yell at them in a crowd. They gain sufficient stimulus to jar them out of lethargy and yet not so much that they effervesce in unstable decisions. As a rule it is better to arouse them to co÷perative and cre-

( 272) -ative thinking than to fire them with a grand-stand pitch of emotion. On the other hand, a crowd generates an enthusiasm which an assembly cannot do and thus possesses an advantage over an assembly as far as certain types of persons and programs are concerned.

The assembly not only arouses people from drowsiness and mental lethargy, but generates in them new attitudes. An assembly, like a crowd, often shakes people loose from egoistic viewpoints and secures their thoughtful, permanent committal to group aims, to steady financial support of group movements, and to regular participation in group activities. When in an assembly, the socially reflected images of an individual affect him greatly. Just because he is in the presence of a thoughtful, and more or less critical group, he is keenly sensitive regarding the impressions that he makes. He develops a broader social attitude than he would if he remained away from assembly influence.

The leader of an assembly is the key man. Through the quietly spoken word, clothed in the richness of a socialized personality, the leader can exert a constructive influence directly, but an even greater influence indirectly, that is, by getting all to participate under group motivation and to contribute their most original thinking.

An assembly can frequently be addressed to better advantage than can individuals. The leader does not experience the embarrassment which he feels when conversing upon a delicate phase of a given individual's conduct. He can make a suggestion to an assembly which would be taken as an insult if addressed personally to certain offenders who may be in the assembly. There is just enough anonymity to enable individuals who need reprimand to say to themselves, "He means some one else," and enough force in the speaker's remarks to penetrate their thinking deeply, stimulating them "to right about face" without having their pride pricked.

Despite its worthy traits, a big assembly is rarely satisfactory; even a group, such as a committee of thirty is too large for effective individual participation, because the chief points for discussion become lost in the idiosyncrasies of thirty different personalities. Discussion is necessary, but too much talk hinders progress. A large committee arouses the pride of those who are chosen and of all who thus are represented, but easily degenerates into a crowd, stimulates the flow of irrational opinion and verbiage, and weakens the group responsibility of the individual members.

Assemblies are of two classes, those that organize thought and those

( 273) that organize will.[4] The first spends much time in deliberation. A college class, a discussion group around the dinner table, persons in friendly argumentation anywhere—these are assemblies that center on thought. A board of directors' meeting, a foremen's conference, a staff officers' meeting—these concentrate on will. Many assemblies have both functions with one or the other being primary. Each call for specialized leadership.[5]

Assemblies, at their best, must be small. Large numbers are only quasi-assemblies. They continually verge on crowd contagion and propagandist movements. The true assembly is that which provides free intersocial stimulation and whose deliberations produce new creative thinking and doing.


The public is a quasi-temporary group. It lacks the structure and prescribed limits of a permanent group, and the face-to-face or bodily presence characteristics of the assembly or crowd. Although without the physical presence of its members, it possesses a substantial degree of permanence and is a powerful factor in a democracy. It closely resembles the crowd in the ease with which the feelings of its members are aroused, but possesses common sense characteristics resembling those of the assembly. It also has group traits peculiar to itself.[6]

The rise of the public came about as a result of the modern development in means of communication, such as the invention of the printing press, the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, and the radio.[7] Consequently, individuals can feel, think, and even act alike, without coming together either as crowds or assemblies. The public as a social group is still little understood and is not scientifically controlled.

The printing press has been given primary credit by Sighele for creating the public and substituting it for the crowd.[8] The railroad shortens distances and enables newspapers to reach the outskirts of cities and

( 274) even remote rural localities in a comparatively short time. Further, the telegraph, telephone, and radio have almost eliminated distance, permitting any news to travel thousands of miles in a few minutes. The radio is developing publics of its own. Hence, the railroad, telegraph, telephone, the radio co÷perate with and supplement the printing press in the development of publics.[9]

Each reading public tends to develop its own type of journalism and to produce newspapers which have its own good and bad qualities and which are its own creatures.[10] Large numbers scattered over a wide territory regularly read the news organs of the publics to which they belong, feel simultaneously the same way in regard to a wanton attack upon anything which is a part of a given public, and express their feelings and opinions simultaneously, being aware that at the same time the other members of that public are experiencing the same feelings and giving expression to the same opinions.

A staunch member of the Republican party in the United States subscribes only to Republican newspapers. If handed a radical socialist journal he would feel insulted. The orthodox socialist subscribes faithfully to his party press, but throws aside Republican newspapers without a glance. The churchman peruses regularly the religious journals of his belief, but spurns free-thinking publications, while in the same neighborhood the freethinker scoffs at religious papers. Thus each public creates its own instruments of communication. What would happen if for one year all Republicans were to read open-mindedly only socialist newspapers and all socialists were to give faithful attention to the Republican press? The reaction of the public upon its press is much greater than is ordinarily supposed. Probably the public exercises as great a control over the newspapers as they do over it. In reversions to past and lower standards the press of the "yellow" and melodramatic type indirectly control its publics.

Within its public the newspaper is tempted to cater to the lower nature of its members. The commercialized newspaper finds that it pays to sensationalize, to appeal to passions and prejudices, and to play up the morbid. The daily press is prone to omit the publication of vital social facts, of data derogatory to powerful social institutions, such as private property, the church, or large advertisers ; it tends to elaborate the minor details of burglaries, divorce scandals, prize fights. It is often controlled

275) by the advertisers of non-essentials. It directly influences its public in spending rather than in saving and thrift.[11]

One public is often played against another by the newspaper, and thus, crowd spirit is engendered. The average reader easily believes the best about his own group and the worst about other groups. What labor newspaper relates the good deeds of employers, and what capitalist publications extol the long-suffering and heart-yearning of the wage-earning man and his family? Publics thus become biased against one another. They develop a sense of injustice where a co÷perative spirit is needed and would be engendered by a scientific understanding of the facts.

The public is deficient in certain virtues of the assembly and is not subject to all the weaknesses of the crowd. To the extent that newspapers suppress the truth or play upon the feelings, or by "scare" headlines create false sentiments, the public is the victim of the foibles of crowd contagion. To the degree, however, in which the members of a public can sit quietly in the home or office and think carefully, they possess advantages akin to those of the assembly.


A person is a member of several publics at the same time, but only of one crowd or assembly at a time. The stimuli from one public may cancel those from another. He may belong simultaneously to a Coolidge public, a Billy Sunday public, a Babe Ruth public, and a John McCormack public. His interests as a member of one public may run counter to his interests as a member of another; hence, he will be compelled to pair off impulses and to act more rationally than if a member at the time of a single face-to-face group. In this way publics may have a singularly steadying effect.


The twentieth century is becoming "an era of publics," and thus, the influence of countless crowds is partially offset. In a small way the public is supplanting the crowd. The increase of both publics and crowds, however, is complicating in its effects on currents of opinion. The maze of publics that one may belong to may lead, not to rational results but to befuddled thinking by the average man, unless he be mentally

( 276) well trained. Educational methods are needed whereby the rank and file of the people will be stimulated to think clearly in terms of several large publics at one and the same time.


Crises produce publics. A local catastrophe arouses a virile community consciousness. All the citizens feel and think together, and begin to work together on rehabilitation plans. In times of national calamities, or especially of impending danger from without the nation, an entire country becomes a public. Smaller publics subordinate their claims to the national public. Instead of several publics or "blocs" working more or less against one another there arises one vast public and one widespread public opinion.

The danger of an attack upon the earth from an ether-plane fleet from Mars would do more than anything else to fuse the peoples of the earth into a world public. France and Germany would forget their feud; white and yellow and black races would lay aside their reciprocal dislikes ; religious controversies would cease. Without an impending world calamity it will be some time before a world public with definite purposes and organizations will develop.


Although publics are coming to the fore as powerful human groupings, they are still in a prescientific stage. They are monsters of gigantic force but with little brain. These hippopotami among groups require scientific examination. Since the average mental level of publics in the United States is perhaps that of the sixth or seventh grade, that is, of the twelve to fourteen year old child, they have little poise and self-control. To imagine a million or fifty million children twelve years of age functioning together in groups will explain the weaknesses of publics. An undeveloped intelligence is the misfortune of publics, as well as of crowds, and hence, in our country, of democracy, for democracy is composed of publics. With a rise in the average intelligence, publics will become more efficient.

Education in the traditional sense will not suffice. Education that stimulates socialized attitudes and that builds socialized habits is a minimum requirement. Publics need to be made self-critical, and people as members of publics need to assume a greatly increased responsibility for the nature of the opinion held and promulgated by publics.

( 277)


1. An assembly is a temporary form of grouping in which ideas rather than feelings control.

2. A committee meeting, a discussion group, and an open forum are representative assemblies.

3. Parliamentary rules of order are essential in order to prevent a big assembly from degenerating into a crowd.

4. Assembly leaders may be directors of discussion rather than crowd or yell leaders.

5. Assemblies are useful forms of temporary grouping, for they save time, expense, and energy, and foster creative thinking.

6. The public is a quasi-temporary group made possible by the invention of the printing press, railroad, telegraph, telephone, and radio, whereby large numbers of people may feel and think alike, and be aware of a community of feeling and thinking, without coming together in each other's presence.

7. Publics possess a steadying effect, for a person may belong to several at the same time and thus be forced to compare and choose between stimuli.

8. Crises generate publics, arousing the social consciousness of many otherwise self-centered or socially thoughtless people.

9. The development of an era of publics at a time when the average intelligence is not above that of the twelve or fourteen year old child creates special social problems.


1. What is the most important characteristic of an assembly?

2. Is a jury an assembly or a crowd?

3. Is a church congregation an assembly?

4. Why are parliamentary rules brittle and easily snapped?

5. Why may an assembly promote creative thinking?

6. What are the merits of open forum meetings?

7. In what way is an assembly inferior to a crowd?

8. What are the leading temptations of a leader of an assembly?

9. Why must assemblies be small in size?

10. What is a public?

11. Name three publics to which you now belong.

( 278)

12. What is the relation of a public to means of communication?

13. How are publics and newspapers related?


1. Why is it harder to address 200 persons in a hall that seats 1,000 than in one which seats 150?

2. What was the origin of parliamentary rules?

3. As a rule have you enjoyed committee meetings? Why?

4. Why do many students dislike the socialized recitation method?

5. Is a large lecture class an assembly or a crowd?

6. If you have observed a public originate, what have been the main generating factors?

7. How does a radio public differ from other publics?

8. What are the difficulties hindering the development of a world public?

9. What would you say is the chief strength and the chief weakness of a public?


Follett, M. P., The New State (Longmans, Green: 1918), Chs. II, VI.

Gardner, C. S., "Assemblies," Amer. Jour. of Sociology XIX; 531-55; and in Psychology and Preaching (Macmillan, 1918), Chs. XI, XIII. Ginsberg, Morris, The Psychology of Society (Dutton, 1921), Ch. X. Hamilton, C., "Psychology of Theater Audiences," Forum, XXXIX: 234-48.

Lippmann, Walter, Public Opinion (Harcourt, Brace: 1922), Part III.

McDougall, William, The Group Mind (Putnam, 1920), Chs. VII, VIII.

Ross, E. A., Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), pp. 63-65; 346-348.


  1. E. A. Ross, Social Psychology (Macmillan, 1908), p. 57.
  2. M. P. Follett, The New State (Longmans, Green : 1920), p. 30.
  3. Cf. Graham Wallas' statement that he has sat through perhaps 3000 meetings of municipal committees and that "half of the men and women with whom I have sat were entirely unaware that any conscious mental effort on their part was called for." The Great Society (Macmillan, 1914), p. 276.
  4. Cf. E. A. Ross, Principles of Sociology (Century, 192o), Chs. XXIII, XXIV; also Graham Wallas, The Great Society, Chs. XI, XII.
  5. Cf. the Chapter on "Mental Leadership."
  6. Cf., Snedden's designation of face-to-face group as an "associate group,"colored by "a wealth of feeling accompaniments," and of publics as "federate groups" in which only a small fraction of social relationships are personal." David Snedden, "Communities Associate and Federate," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXVIII: 681-693.
  7. See the Chapter on "Communication."
  8. La foule criminelle (Paris, 1892), p. 225.
  9. La foule criminelle (Paris, 1892), pp 225, 226. Also see Gabriel Tarde, L'opinion et la foule (Paris, 19o1), Ch. I.
  10. Ibid., p. 241.
  11. Cf."War Thrift," by T. N. Carver, in Preliminary Economic Studies of the War (Oxford Univ. Press, 1919), Ch. VI

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