Localized Collectivities: Mobs, Riots & Crowd Behavior
Sociologists study collective behavior in localized collectivities to understand how individuals and groups relate in close proximity to one another. Understanding the role, purpose, and social impact of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior in localized collectivities is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of collective behavior. This article provides an overview of the main principles of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior; collective behavior in localized collectivities; and the sociological study of collective behavior. Specific examples of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior in localized collectivities will be included. The main criticisms of crowd behavior theories will be explored as will the impact of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior on society.
Keywords Acting Crowds; Casual Crowds; Collective Behavior; Collectivity; Contagion Theory; Conventional Crowds; Convergence Theory; Crowd; Dispersed Collectivity; Localized Collectivity; Mob; Riot
Social Movements> Localized Collectivities: Mobs, Riots
The following is an analysis of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior in localized collectivities. Sociologists study collective behavior in localized collectivities to understand how individuals and groups relate in close proximity to one another. Understanding the role, purpose, and social impact of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior in localized collectivities is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of collective behavior. This article explores the role of mobs, riots, and crowds in localized collectivities in four parts:
- An overview of the main principles of mobs, riots & crowd behavior, collective behavior in localized collectivities, and the sociological study of collective behavior;
- Examples of mob, riot, and crowd behavior in localized collectivities;
- An analysis of the main criticisms of crowd behavior theories; and
- A brief discussion of the impact of mobs, riots, and crowd behavior on social life.
The Main Principles of Mobs, Riots,
Mobs, riots, and crowds impact society in numerous ways. The collective behavior of mobs, riots, and crowds in localized, or close, collectivities can be an agent of spontaneous social change, an affirmation of existing social mores and structures, or a powerful tool of individual transformation. A crowd refers to a temporary gathering of people united by a common focus. Individuals in crowds are known to influence each other. Sociologist Herbert Blumer divided crowds into five distinct categories:
- The casual crowd,
- The conventional crowd,
- The expressive crowd,
- The acting crowd, and
- The protest crowd.
Blumer based his crowd scheme largely on the emotional intensity of crowds (Snow, 2001).
Casual crowds refer to large groups of people gathered temporarily in the same location. Interaction among members of casual crowds tends to be minimal. Examples of casual crowds include groups of commuters or farmers' market shoppers. Conventional crowds refer to groups of people who come together for a scheduled event. Members of conventional crowds, such as those attending concerts or graduations, tend to interact with one another as they have a shared focus of attention and interest. Expressive crowds refer to groups of people who come together to release emotions with other individuals who have similar feelings. Examples of expressive crowds include those that gather at funerals to mourn or gather after an election to celebrate a victory.
Acting crowds refer to high-emotion, high-energy, and high focus collectivities. Acting crowd behavior works to change the external environment outside of the crowd. Acting crowds, which include mobs and riots, have the potential to engage in violent or destructive behavior. Mobs, such as those involved in lynching, refer to a highly emotional crowd that pursues a violent or destructive goal. Riots refer to an emotionally frenzied crowd that lacks focus, direction, and purpose. Riots tend to be violent and lack direction and leadership. The protest crowd differs from the other four types of crowds in the potential for high variability of emotions among crowd participants or members. Ultimately, crowds are often identified and characterized by their dominant or prevailing emotion, their level of interaction, and the level of shared focus.
Crowd behavior, including mobs and riots, is explained through three main theories:
- Contagion theory,
- Convergence theory, and
- Emergent-norm theory.
Contagion theory, developed by sociologist Gustave LeBon in the late twentieth century, argues that crowds exert a hypnotic effect over their participants. According to contagion theory, crowd participants abandon personal responsibility and identity and engage in irrational and anonymous acts. Convergence theory argues that crowds are formed of like-minded people united for a particular shared purpose. According to convergence theory, crowd participation and behavior expresses existing beliefs and positions and is not irrational. Emergent-norm theory, which is the middle ground between contagion theory and convergence theory, argues that crowd behavior is both representative of member values and beliefs as well as shaped by the emotion and energy of the moment (Macionis, 1995).
Collective Behavior in Localized Collectivities
Collectivities refer to distinct human groups united by shared social structures, identity, and customs. Collectivities include large numbers of loosely connected people. Common examples of collectivities include ethnic groups and indigenous communities. They tend to have a designated leader representing common interests, and are characterized by their shared beliefs, values, social structures, decision-making, tradition, and activities. Members of collectivities are aware of and tend to cultivate the separate identity of their group.
There are two types of collectivities: localized collectivities and dispersed collectivities. Localized collectivities refer to people who are in close proximity to one another and act in unison and consort. Localized collectivities or groups have continuous contact among members. Examples of localized collectivities include mobs, riots, crowds, small towns, fraternities, army units, and school cliques. Dispersed collectivities describe mass behavior. Mass behavior, which has become more common under the influence of mass media, refers to the collective behavior of individuals settled or dispersed over a large geographic area. Collective behavior and communication differs in the two types of collectivities. For example, dispersed collective communication and behavior includes communication in small groups and networks. In contrast, localized collective communication is characterized by continuous contact as seen in mob, riot, and crowd behavior.
Collectivities, social groups, and social movements exhibit collective behavior and collective communication. That said, collectivities, social groups, and social movements also have intrinsic differences. Collectivities are recognized as distinct from social movements and social groups in three main ways:
- Collectivities have limited social interactions.
- Collectivities lack social boundaries.
- Collectivities tend to have weak or unconventional norms and beliefs.
In contrast, social movements and social groups differ from collectivities in their high degree of internal organization and their intentional efforts at organization and goals of social change (Macionis, 1995).
The Sociological Study of Collective Behavior
In the nineteenth century, social scientists began studying the phenomenon of collective behavior. Sociologists, including Gustave Le Bon, Emile Durkheim, Robert Park, Talcott Parsons, and Herbert Blumer, analyzed the activities of social movements, social groups, mass gatherings, collectivities, audiences, mobs, riots, and crowds to learn how these collective behaviors work and what impact collective behavior has on society.
Social psychologists, namely Gustave Le Bon, 1841–1931, developed the field of collective psychology to understand and analyze the political and social turmoil of twentieth century Europe. Le Bon developed the contagion crowd theory to explain the way in which crowds exert a hypnotic effect over their participants. During Le Bon's time, industrialization birthed changes in social structures, work practices, and political leadership. Individuals and groups responded with protests, violent strikes, riots, and challenges. LeBon explained the social psychology of these emerging crowds in his book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1896).
Emile Durkheim (1855–1917), a French sociologist concerned with the problem of the individual and society as well as issues of solidarity and social cohesion, developed the theory of collective conscience to explain social cohesion and collectivity. Collective conscience refers to the shared beliefs and moral attitudes that operate to unify sectors of society. Durkheim developed his theories in part to understand the protest and social unrest of his day. To learn how individuals related to society, Durkheim studied the social structure, societal norms, laws, community, groups, and societal roles in French society. In his research, Durkheim looked for the causes and functions of social...
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