This essay traces the figure of the leader in different approaches of crowd psychology (Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde) and psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud). It argues that the central role of the leader to the crowd, as Freud's group psychology emphasizes, is not simply given; rather, the leader has to be made a constitutive feature of crowds. Tarde's work on imitation and suggestion gives rise to an alternative notion of the leader—one who embodies the conjuncture of crowds—and thus opens a new perspective on the self-referential constitution of crowds. For Tarde, the figure of the leader escapes the narrow confines of a theory of identification, which Freudian psychoanalysis posits. The essay shows that such a conceptual intervention, questioning the very model of identification, also has implications for the possibility of narrating leadership, pointing to the need of a “sociological impressionism.”

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