chapter  2
14 Pages

Public Opinion and Social Control

ByElisabeth Noelle-Neumann

This text represents the edited and slightly shortened English version of Elisabeth NoelleNeumann’s inaugural lecture at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz on November 9, 1965. The translation has been supplied by John Fosberry. In the German academic system, newly appointed full professors are invited to give an inaugural lecture to a wider audience of the university presenting their main research and teaching agenda. NoelleNeumann was appointed for the newly founded chair of communication (in German “Publizistik”) the previous year after having taught for four years as an adjunct professor at the Free University Berlin. The text “Public Opinion and Social Control” is her fi rst comprehensive formulation of ideas that later found their way into her socio-psychological theory of public opinion. So far it has been only published in German (Noelle, 1966). The text is published here with the permission of Noelle-Neumann’s heir Dr. Ralph Erich Schmidt. Omissions from the original text are indicated by: …


Public Opinion-in some mysterious way this term retained its aura of suspense. Yet it is the fate of literary or learned treatises which venture to ventilate the concept of public opinion that they disappoint the reader or listener. When they demonstrate that “public opinion” is nonexistent, that it is a fi ction, they are unconvincing. “The term cannot be killed,” complains Dovifat (1962, p. 108). Jürgen Habermas (1962, p. 13) wrote: “… not only does colloquial usage cling to it; even the sciences and particularly jurisprudence, politics and sociology are patently incapable of replacing traditional categories such as … ‘public opinion’ with more precise classifi cations.” And when, conversely, a defi nition

is attempted, the outcome is no better. After a two-day discussion and the reading of four papers on public opinion at a symposium of German scholars of communication in 1961, one of the participants said, “I still don’t know what public opinion is” (referenced in Löffl er, 1962, p. 76).