Chapter 21: Collective Behavior and Social Movements
Collective behavior refers to actions at a group level that are considered to be outside the usual
norms governing behavior.
• EX. Social efforts for the Philippines
• For example: The ‘normal’course of politics = voting,
Writing a congressman Collective behavior politics = demonstrating, protesting
• Collective behavior can be violent and nonviolent; progressive (for change) and
conservative (against change); profound (humanitarian movements, animal rights) or
mundane (fashion; rumors)
Early Explanations: The Transformation of the Individual
• Focus on protest and collective action as dysfunctional
• Early explanations of collective behavior focused on a crowd’s ability to affect an
• ‘Mob mentality’: involves getting an individual to do things as part of a group that
normally he or she would never do
• 1852, Charles Mackay commented on how individuals may act differently when in a
o Argued people had a “herd mentality”
• 1895, Gustave LeBon built on Mackay’s observation, stressing how people in crowds feel
anonymous and less accountable for what they do.
• The individuals in the crowd forego their individual conscience and morality system and
instead develop a collective mind that paves the way for contagion, a kind of mass
hypnosis that releases the destructive instincts society has so carefully repressed
• 1920, Robert Park added the ideas of social unrest to LeBon’s contagion analogy.
• “Circular reaction”: describes how social unrest is transmitted from one individual in a
crowd to another, back and forth, building into a “collective impulse that comes to
dominate all the members of the crowd.”
• EX. It is a building process – food fights don’t start in the flip of a switch (these are
• Focus is on fear of the mob & crowd, without addressing the underlying grievances of the
• Synthesizing LeBon’s and Park’s ideas, Herbert Blumer developed the idea of the acting
crowd – purposeful behavior
• Blumer identified five stages that crowds go through (develop) before they become an
o 1) Abackground condition of tension or unrest makes people apprehensive and
vulnerable to rumors and suggestions.
EX. There is food at X location in the Philippines
o 2) An exciting event occurs—one so startling that people are preoccupied with it.
EX. Apolice hit a protester – people know something is going on!! o 3) People engage in milling, standing or walking around, talking about the
exciting event, and picking up cues from each other as to the “right” way of
thinking and feeling about the exciting event.
How people/witnesses begin to interpret or make sense of the event
EX. Professor catches on fire, many different reactions from students
o 4) Acommon object of attention emerges in which people become riveted on
some aspect of the event.
o 5) Asense of collective agreement or common impulse about what should be done
• Stimulated by social contagion (a sense of excitement that is passed from one person to
another), this common impulse fuels a collective action.
• Acting crowds aren’t always negative or destructive; some involved spontaneous
demonstrations directed against oppression, while others may be more frivolous, such as
a food fight between students.
o Lack of focus on purpose
The Contemporary View: The Rationality of the Crowd
• Current explanations of collective behavior emphasize the rationality of the crowd,
including the deliberative steps that crowds take to reach their goals and the emergent
norms that guide and/or justify their actions.
• People generally tend to behave in ways that minimize their costs and maximize their
• This principle is referred to as a minimax strategy, noting how people, whether by
themselves or in groups, are more likely to carry out actions that they anticipate will have
fewer costs and more rewards.
o EX. Boycott only works in minimax strategy. Barilla products for homosexuals
• Noting that human behavior is regulated by norms, sociologist Ralph Turner and Lewis
Killian stress how people sometimes develop new norms to deal with unusual events.
• These “emerging norms” produce new definitions of right and wrong to justify actions
that could be considered wrong.
o EX. People are actually acting rationally within the given situation or context.
Stealing all bad clothes from GAP
o People are considered rational or irrational depending on their actions within a
• Not everyone in a crowd shares the same point of view.
• Rather, crowds include five kinds of participants:
o 1) the ego-involved – those who feel a personal stake in the usual event
o 2) the concerned – those who share a personal interest i