The Demonstration Society
Today, as in the past, public demonstrations are not only tools to prove, persuade, and promote, but also fundamental forms of social interaction and exchange.
YouTube demos of makeup products by famous influencers, demonstrations of strength during street protests, demonstrations of military might in North Korea: public demonstrations are omnipresent in social life. Yet they are often perceived as isolated events, unworthy of systematic examination. In The Demonstration Society, Claude Rosental explores the underlying dynamics of what he calls a “demonstration society.” He shows how, both in today's world and historically, public demonstrations constitute not only tools to prove, persuade, and promote, but fundamental forms of interaction and exchange, and, in some cases, attempts to lead the world.
Rosental compares demos with other forms of public demonstrations, drawing out both their peculiarities and common features. He analyzes the processes through which demonstrations are conceived and carried out, as well as the skills of their producers. He also compares contemporary demos with historical demonstrations including theaters of machines in the Renaissance, public demonstrations of natural philosophy in the seventeenth century, and demonstrations of the magic lantern in the nineteenth century. Above and beyond the entertainment they sometimes provide, demonstrations are experienced as intense moments that broadly involve alliances, material and symbolic goods, and, more generally, the future of individuals and collectives. Rosental elucidates the many ways in which we live today, as in the past, in a society of demonstration.
“Rosental has a gift for making us see the world differently, as he provides the vocabulary needed to study crucial but often invisible and understudied aspects of reality. The Demonstration Society is a tour de force.”
Michèle Lamont, Harvard University; author of How Professors Think
“This is a rich and resonant exploration of the complex relationships between performing demonstrations—scientific, technological, cultural, political—and the realities of what is demonstrated. Rosental puts demonstration center stage in the theaters of late modernity.”
Steven Shapin, Harvard University; author of The Scientific Life
“Protest marches, PowerPoint presentations, and demos of makeup products—what are the differences and connections between such varied performances of proof and persuasion? Claude Rosental brings a keen sociological eye to these pervasive practices of a demo-cratic society.”
David Stark, Columbia Unversity, editor of The Performance Complex
“The Demonstration Society is a brilliant challenge to social studies of science and technology, studies of social movements, and the sociology of culture. Through beautifully crafted case studies, Rosental shows how the “making public” of things has become key to contemporary life. Revelatory performances help constitute the cultural fabric of everyday life and shared conceptions of reality. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but demonstrations matter in many domains of social life from politics and mathematics to demos of new technology at MIT.”
Chandra Mukerji, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, San Diego
“The Demonstration Society's audience is not limited to social scientists thanks to its great clarity. Its readership is much wider and includes professionals and citizens. The analysis of a deeply multidisciplinary object it offers is unique, original, and intelligible to everyone.”
Camille Capelle, University of Bordeaux