A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism (created by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat's Cradle), is defined as a "false karass". That is, it is a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is meaningless.[vague]
Charles J. Shields's 2011 And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life quotes the novelist, who wrote in his introduction to Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974) that a "granfalloon is a proud and meaningless collection of human beings...." That biography also cites Hoosiers as "one of [Vonnegut's] favorite examples" of what the term refers to.
The most commonly purported granfalloons are associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise. Examples from Cat's Cradle include: "the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company—and any nation, anytime, anywhere." A more general and oft-cited quote defines a granfalloon as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings."  Another example of a granfalloon cited in the novel was Hoosiers, which included the fictional narrator (and Vonnegut himself).
If you wish to examine a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon. — Bokonon
"My God," she said, "are you a Hoosier?"
I admitted I was.
"I'm a Hoosier, too," she crowed. "Nobody has to be ashamed of being a Hoosier."
"I'm not," I said. "I never knew anybody who was."
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
They had found a can of white paint, and on the front doors of the cab Frank had painted white stars, and on the roof he had painted the letters of a granfalloon: U.S.A.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
The granfalloon technique is a method of persuasion in which individuals are encouraged to identify with a particular granfalloon or social group. The pressure to identify with a group is meant as a method of securing the individual's loyalty and commitment through adoption of the group's symbols, rituals, and beliefs.
In social psychology, the concept stems from research by the Polish social psychologist Henri Tajfel, whose findings have come to be known as the minimal group paradigm. In his research, Tajfel found that strangers would form groups on the basis of completely inconsequential criteria.
In one study, Tajfel subjects were asked to watch a coin toss. They were then designated to a particular group based on whether the coin landed on heads or tails. The subjects placed in groups based on such meaningless associations between them have consistently been found to "act as if those sharing the meaningless labels were kin or close friends."
Researchers since Tajfel have made strides into unraveling the mystery behind this phenomenon. Today it is broken down into two basic psychological processes, one cognitive and one motivational.
First, knowing that one is a part of this group is used to make sense of the world. When one associates with a particular group, those in the group focus on the similarities between the members. However, for people not in the group, or "outsiders," differences are focused upon and often exaggerated. A problem with the granfalloon is that it often leads to in-group, out-group bias.
References and footnotes
- Author's own introduction to Wampeters,Foma and Granfalloons, 1974
- Book Review of Age of Propaganda by Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, Alison Carpenter
- Billig, Michael; Tajfel, Henri (1973). "Social categorization and similarity in intergroup behaviour". European Journal of Social Psychology. 3 (1): 27–52. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420030103.
- Pratkanis, Anthony R.; Aronson, Elliot (1992). Age of Propaganda (Rev. ed.). New York: Owl Book. pp. 214–223.
- Devilly, Grant J. (2005). "Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry". Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 39 (6): 437–45. doi:10.1080/j.1440-1614.2005.01601.x. PMID 15943644.