Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Eric Wiland, Ph.D.


Eric Wiland, Ph.D.

Gualtiero Piccinini, Ph.D.

William Dunaway, Ph.D.


This paper aims to show that art and film can operate as propaganda in subtle and unintentional ways. Jacques Ellul called such propaganda “sociological propaganda.” Recent work in philosophy has relied on the notion of intention in defining how propaganda works to affect the beliefs and attitudes of its recipients. This paper argues that intention is not a necessary condition for messages to be propagandistic and works to decouple propaganda from intention. Because our current models rely on intention in defining propaganda, recent work in philosophy cannot account for sociological propaganda. Ellul’s gestures toward defining propaganda explicitly feature intention as a component. Sheryl Tuttle Ross’s “epistemic merit model” of propaganda relies on intention in its definition of propaganda. Similarly, Jason Stanley implicitly relies on the notion of intention in defining the two types of propaganda in his book How Propaganda Works. Decoupling propaganda from intention does not mean that any influential message counts a propaganda; instead, a systematic connection must hold between the message’s production and its effects. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s political economic model of propaganda outlines one of the ways this systematic connection is instantiated, but there are many others. Additionally, this paper explores what phenomenon Jacques Ellul means to capture by the term “sociological propaganda” and offers a pointed definition of the term. Finally, this paper will draw from the work of Rae Langton and Caroline West to advance a mechanism for how sociological propaganda works. Sociological propaganda works through a process of accommodation whereby the audience adopts certain attitudes in order to understand the received image as a logically coherent message. Accommodation relies on authority to be successful. As long as they take art and film to be authoritative, recipients risk adopting and reinforcing the attitudes undergirding the piece.

OCLC Number