It is generally accepted that the concept of stereotype was first introduced by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion, which was published in the United States in 1922. Although frequently cited, Lippmann’s work is rarely read, and as a result his definition of the concept tends to be grossly oversimplified. Public Opinion needs to be translated (there has never been a French edition) and reread because its definition of stereotype as a manifestation of a worldview is much more complex than is usually thought. It remains highly relevant for understanding our contemporary world at a time of accelerated rebabelization and ongoing dewesternization.
There is widespread agreement that the concept of stereotype was introduced by Walter Lippmann (1889–1974) in Public Opinion, published in the United States in 1922 (Lippmann 1922). However, as Leonard S. Newman (2009) reminds us, while Lippmann is one of the most-cited authors in the field, he is also one of the least read. Contrary to the received wisdom, he was not the one who introduced the term, though his book made it more famous than it would have been otherwise. As a further paradox, Public Opinion may have been cited a great deal, but it has very rarely been translated. There is still no French translation, and those into other languages are recent: the book only seems to have been translated into Russian (Lippmann 2004) and German (Lippmann 2018).
This lack of understanding, not of the concept itself but of the circumstances in which it appeared, invites us to trace back its origins, in order to better understand its whys and wherefores—at a time when our multipolar world is undergoing a growing rebabelization (Oustinoff 2011).
People tend to think about stereotypes in isolation, while recognizing that Lippmann was the father of the notion. However, Lippmann placed stereotypes at the center of a deeper reflection on the foundations of public opinion, from which stereotypes are indissociable. The epigraph for the work is Plato’s allegory of the cave. We can only perceive reality through simplified forms of more complex processes, which we can therefore only grasp through a “stereotyped” vision (Lippmann 1922, 142)…
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