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.