This article focuses on the historical transformation of the concept of ‘mass’in the contemporary social sciences. First, the ‘masses’ is the collective object conceptualized in a specific historical context that had emerged in the early 20th century and disappeared by the end of the century. Before the emergence of this concept, the elite and intellectuals were struck with fear of the expanding images of crowds of poor laborers.
After the W.W.I, the uncontrollable image of the crowd has changed to the image of the ‘masses’ who could be mobilized as soldiers and consumers. Especially after W.W.II, the concepts of ‘mass society’ and ‘mass communication’ were often discussed. The sociological theory of ‘mass society’ became a major discourse in sociology and the ‘mass communication’ theory became the hegemonic discourse in the field of media studies. The author also discussed the subtle difference of the concept of ‘mass’ in the different academic fields such as sociology, communication studies, and cultural studies.
Finally, this article discusses the transformation of the concept of ‘mass’ in digital society from the 21st century onward. Today, ‘mass’ is more discussed with the expansion of the ‘mass data’ than the ‘mass society’. The author analyzes the structural transformation of our society with digital technology in this conceptual change. Today, we are facing the expansion of ‘mass data’ that seems to be uncontrollable for ordinary people. Although the society of ‘mass data’ is quite different from the society of ‘mass communication’, it is still a subject in the field of media studies. So, the major focus of the next generation of media studies should be the critical analysis of the relationship between our society and ‘mass data’ that has been appropriated with highly developed algorithms in digital society.