The People, The Public, The Masses (Editorial)

David Nolan, Michael Dutton

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial


Mao Zedong once argued that revolutionary leadership consisted of little more than taking the ideas of the masses, scattered and unsystematic, and systematising them so that the masses reappropriated them and treated them as their own. In contrast, Raymond Williams argued that ‘there are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses’ (1963, p. 289). Between the vanguardist Marxism of Mao and the critical approach of Williams, we are offered two quite distinct approaches to that most elusive of figures: the public, the people, the masses. Yet in both cases, what is striking is how central are technologies of invention, systematisation and legitimisation. Technologies by which ‘the people’ are brought into discourse, measured, and used to legitimise policy are, indeed, central to the constitution of modern forms of government, while they are simultaneously produced by and instrumental to it. This issue of Southern Review explores the proliferation of formulations that work to make visible and mobilise an entity that is, paradoxically, always both real and mythical, imaginary and effective. In particular, its contributors share a concern to understand the consequences of such technologies and formulations for the lives of those (dis)embodied within them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-3
Number of pages3
JournalSouthern Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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