Societal discontent: Deciphering the Zeitgeist

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In recent years, a sense of doom and gloom about the state of society has loomed large in many countries around the world. The campaign of president Donald Trump embraced the idea that American society is in decline. While this collective societal discontent appears to have influenced major political developments in recent years, it until recently was scarcely studied. The aim of this dissertation is to answer the question: what is societal discontent? We propose to conceptualize societal discontent as an aspect of the “Zeitgeist”: a collectively shared, tacit, generalized perception of the state of society. Societal discontent is an aspect of our social reality: The collective perception that we, our society as a whole, is doing badly. In order to the able to study and measure societal discontent, we developed an operationalisation: a latent “general factor” Z. With this conceptualisation and operationalisation, we subsequently studied the phenomenon societal discontent. We studied its consequences: Our research showed that societal discontent influences how people interpret newspaper headlines and predicts voting for extreme political parties. In addition, our research showed that there is a relationship between the extent of societal discontent and media use. We also developed an international Z-scale to compare societal discontent across countries. This dissertation provides a new approach to study societal discontent. Our results so far have been consistent with this approach and point to directions for future research.
Translated title of the contributionMaatschappelijk ongenoegen: De tijdgeest ontleed
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Postmes, Tom, Supervisor
  • Meijer, Rob, Supervisor
Award date28-Sep-2017
Place of Publication[Groningen]
Print ISBNs978-94-034-0020-4
Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-0019-8
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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