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Marx and Douglas McAdam
Prentice Hall , 1994.
This chapter offers a framework for the study of this ever illusive and beguiling topic which goes to the very heart of positivist efforts to understand social behavior. Such behavior is invariably characterized by the intermingling of structure and process. An earlier version (not posted here) "Conceptual Problems in the Study of Collective Behavior", is in H. Blalock (ed.), Social Theory and Social Research, Free Press 1980.
Chapter I: The Study of Collective Behavior
A. What Is Collective
As we review these pages for the final time sections of Los Angeles are in flames in response to a jury verdict exonerating police whose beating of an African American man was captured on videotape. Supporters and opponents of abortion take to the streets daily. Mexico City searches for answers to a gas explosion that leveled a 40 square block area. The number of men wearing pony tails and one earring and the number of people saying and understanding "yo, dude" seems to be increasing. These diverse actions fall within the area sociologists call collective behavior.
Some fields in sociology are relatively easy to define and their meaning can be grasped immediately, e.g. the family, deviance, politics or organizations. Collective behavior is not one of them. It includes an enormous array of behaviors, processes, structures and contexts. It encompasses parts of many sociological sub-fields. It tends to focus on a particular kind of behavior, rather than on a particular institution such as schools, on abstract group properties such as social stratification or bureaucratic structure, or on a single social process such as socialization. To be sure many areas of sociology involve the study of behavior --but they tend to be restricted to particular types e.g., religious, criminal or political behavior. In contrast collective behavior is not restricted to a given type of behavior or social process. It is more general and inclusive.
What do sociologists mean by the term collective behavior? College catalogues usually define this course as involving the study of crowds, fads, disasters, panics and social movements. A listing of such nouns is descriptively accurate. Yet what binds these things together? Why are elements included or excluded? Would a marching band be included? What about a labor dispute in a context where workers have the right to strike as part of their agreement with management? What about an orderly crowd watching the construction of a large office building? Is a weekly church revival meeting with the same participants an example of collective behavior? What if the number attending rapidly expanded and many new revival groups appeared? What if most of those attending suddenly stopped coming? Is a reform-seeking political party or interest group an example of collective behavior? What (if anything) does a highly organized social movement which endures over decades share with the most ephemeral crowd or fad?
Defining the field by merely listing empirical phenomena does not permit answering such questions and leaves us with a jumble of seemingly unrelated topics. Thus, a crowd is a type of group. A fad is a type of behavior. Disaster refers to a type of social setting. Panic refers to an individual psychological state. A social movement often refers to a type of organization. Awareness of this diversity has led to a lively debate about what the field ought to consist of. One strand of criticism argues that the field has little internal unity and is held together only by accidents of tradition. The first collective behavior theorists in the Nineteenth century chose to include the above elements. These were then rather uncritically accepted by later theorists such as Park and Burgess (1924), and then Blumer (1951), whose intellectual legacy has shaped contemporary views.
Because of these accidents of tradition, the field can be seen as a residual category: what can not be studied as social structure, or from a perspective of cultural definitions, falls within the province of collective behavior.
Some critics argue the field would be improved by excluding social movements from it. These more organized and enduring phenomena are seen to belong to political or organizational sociology. Others argue that the field would be better were it to be more concerned with a particular group structure such as the crowd, regardless of whether the behavior present is dynamic or predefined by cultural standards. Still others argue that the focus should not be on the highly diverse and seemingly unrelated forms of behavior traditionally included, but on the distinctive social and psychological processes thought to be present.
An even more extreme view argues that the field as a whole should be abolished because all complex social behavior is collective and to a degree dynamic. Hence the "field" has no unique subject matter. The collective behavior perspective is thought to apply to all behavior and no unique concepts, theories or methods are needed to understand it, apart from general sociological concepts. If we were starting fresh we could certainly find a better name for the field and perhaps a more logical way of dividing it up (although this could be said of most intellectual fields).
The term "collective behavior" does not have much literal meaning since strictly speaking it includes any group behavior. Yet once established, intellectual traditions are slow to change. The initial definitions of knowledge and questions in this field still exert a powerful hold. Courses and books usually contain the words "collective behavior." Critics of this field raise important issues, but as in Kipling's fable of the blind persons and the elephant (where each person correctly identifies a separate part, but all fail to see the whole animal), we think there is a broad logic uniting the field. The logic involves emergent group behavior in settings where cultural guidelines are non-specific or lacking, inadequate, or in dispute.
B. Why Study Collective
Aside from its intrinsic interest, there are a number of reasons why the study of collective behavior is important. To begin with the topic has some highly practical aspects. In 1979 at a rock concert by the "Who" at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium 11 people died. They were among many thousands waiting in line to enter the stadium. They were crushed to death when a stadium door opened and the crowd surged forward. Better architectural design and crowd management might have avoided this tragedy. In a related example there is sometimes needless loss of life and injury when persons inside a smoke filled auditorium panic and all run for the exit, rather than exiting in an orderly fashion. Knowledge of how people respond in such situations can lead to physical design and the training of personnel so that "unnecessary" damage does not occur.
In more contentious settings such as prison riots, (e.g. Attica in 1971 or civil disorders such as. Watts in 1964, Detroit and Newark in 1967) knowledge of crowd behavior and social movements can reduce loss of life and injury and help prevent conflict from escalating in a destructive way. Most of the loss of life during the 1960s urban civil disorders was caused not by protestors, but by control agents who, lacking experience in crowd control and holding discredited or inappropriate ideas about crowds, frequently overreacted. (Marx 1970)
The importance of understanding behavior in disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tidal waves, and nuclear accidents is obvious. Research, education and planning can make it more likely that the damage that occurs is entirely a result of the disaster and not the human response to it. The Center for Disaster Research at the University of Delaware, founded by collective behavior scholars E.L. Quarantelli and Russell Dynes, has had a world-wide impact. The center has served as a clearing house and international model for other research centers and researchers. Its research has been useful to disaster planning and control efforts. As we will note in chapter III the research on disasters has revealed some counter-intuitive findings.
Apart from its direct usefulness, knowledge of collective behavior is relevant to you as an educated person and as a participant in a democratic society. It calls attention to some of the most basic questions about human beings. There is the question posed by Hobbes: how is social order possible? How fragile is the social order and what happens when it breaks down? There is the question raised by Freud: how rational is modern man in an industrial urban setting? There is the question posed by Karl Marx: how do societies change? Does history follow a pre-determined path? Are individuals simply pawns of some more profound historical necessity or do persons make their own history? Why are social reform efforts frequently unsuccessful or limited in their impact or duration? Of course in this short text we can not begin to do justice to these questions, but the study of collective behavior offers one way to approach them.
As a social science field its eclectic nature gives it some distinctive elements. Those concerned with ever greater specialization and the tight compartmentalization of disciplines might see this as a disadvantage. Yet for the undergraduate liberal arts student, the field's theoretical, empirical and cross-disciplinary breadth is a decided advantage. It is an ideal area within which to examine basic, and unfortunately often unrelated, theoretical perspectives on group life. The empirical data force us to confront process and structure, change and stability, conflict and cooperation and the micro and the macro levels of analysis.
As we noted earlier even a short lived crowd will show a degree of structure and patterning. It will be limited and shaped by the cultural expectations and social characteristics that persons bring to it. At the same time behavior within highly organized bureaucratic settings such as an assembly line or a large office will show emergent and innovative elements.
To understand participation in a religious movement such as Hari Krishna or a protest movement on behalf of the environment, we will want to know what the experience means to people and how they see their situations. These topics can be usefully approached through the study of "symbolic inter-action". At the same time we will want to apply a broad approach that looks not only at individual perception and sense-making, but at group structures and functions and the broad societal, and even international, context within which the behavior is occuring.
As we noted, the sometimes controversial and out-of-the-ordinary nature of collective behavior topics and the fact that people may feel deeply about them can offer us data that is usually hidden or unseen. Dormant or taken-for-granted elements of social structure may suddenly surface or become problematic. We may be forced to look at society in a new way. Some collective behavior tests societal limits. As a result important aspects of society's functioning may be revealed. Issues around social stratification, inequality, decision making, the nature and distribution of power and legitimation may come to the front.
Thus when a controversy ends with police, or in extreme cases the national guard being called in, the role of organized force or coercion (and their threat) in maintaining the established social order is apparent. The messages on placards and in the chants and songs of protestors can tell us about powerlessness and dissensus over values. The origin of, and supports and legitimation for, basic values and practices may be called into question. For example when blacks refuse to sit in the back of the bus, when 18 year olds refuse to be drafted to fight in Viet Nam, when homosexuals demonstrate for the right to serve in the military, or when students defy administrators by wearing outfits to school favored by punk-rock musicians, questions appear such as: where do the rules come from? Who makes them? Who do they serve? What is right and wrong? Who says how things ought to be done and by what authority?
The field also offers a way to blend humanistic and social scientific concerns. The humanist's concern with historical understanding and values and the social scientist's concern with using general principles to systematically order empirical data can be joined. Collective behavior deals with events of historical significance to a greater extent than almost any other area of sociological inquiry. Factual knowledge of these events is required if we are to know how to interpret, order and compare them.
Understanding modern history and the nature of mass industrial society (including the social change dynamics associated with industrialization, urbanization, and modernization) requires some knowledge of, and a perspective upon, mass behavior and movements. The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions, fascist movements in Germany and Italy, anti-colonial movements in third world countries, and the recent American and Eastern European social movements have profound historic importance. Their legacies touch us all in a variety of ways. There is little sign that the role of collective behavior as a vehicle for social change, whether through mass movements or the more subtle diffusion processes of fashions and fads is lessening.
There are additional moral and pragmatic reasons for an understanding of the field. During the 1930s and for several decades thereafter, a generation of European and United States researchers were drawn to it. (e.g. Fromm 1941, Kornhauser 1959). Their attention was focused on the fragility of democratic institutions and the ability of totalitarian rulers to manipulate large numbers of people. They sought to understand how modern technology and a mass society might facilitate fascism. They wanted to understand how fascism occurred and what could be done to prevent or combat it.
Researchers in the 1960s and 1970s were also inspired by a concern with social movements, but in this case it was generally in the hope of understanding more about them in order to aide them. Toward the end of the 1960s research output significantly expanded, as persons who had been active in, or were supportive of, the civil rights, student and anti-war movements sought to gain knowledge of the collective behavior and social change processes which were touching their lives.
Collective behavior is of course a double-edged sword. It may be used for good or ill depending on the context, the goals you hold to be important and your beliefs about the proper relationship between means and ends. It is intricately involved with issues of freedom and tyranny. Organization and structure can be enemies of freedom, creativity, and adaptability. Collective behavior can mean challenge to unjust authority, liberation and renewal. It may demonstrate humans at their most moral and heroic. But it can also involve destruction, irrationality, barbarism and the most self-serving and least honorable of human qualities.
Regardless of your own personal values, where you stand on a left-right continuum, and whether or not you see yourself as an activist, in order to be an informed and reasonably autonomous citizen of a democratic society, some knowledge of mass behavior and movements is essential. You have been and will continue to be subject to collective behavior processes. This partly represents spontaneous factors characterizing any complex social enterprise. But it also reflects the ever-finer honing of the technology and the expansion of the resources needed for producing collective behavior. As a potential target for, or a voluntary consumer/participant of collective behavior activity, it is vital that you have some understanding of and ability to analyze crowd behavior, propaganda, ideology, rumor, mass communications, social movements, and fads, crazes and fashion. A citizenry informed in these matters is a necessary condition for political democracy, rationality and individual freedom. This is clearly demonstrated by the control efforts, (whether stark repression or more subtle manipulation) found in contemporary totalitarian countries and novels such as Brave New World and 1984.
C. Dimensions of Emergence-Cultural
Social settings can be contrasted with respect to the extent to which culture defines what is to be done. At one extreme, culture offers guidelines: it indicates what social roles will be played and by whom and who can become a member; it defines means and ends and procedures for decision-making and it indicates where interaction will occur and when it will begin and end. A wedding ceremony in a church, a lecture in a college classroom, or an automobile assembly line are examples of highly organized settings where culture offers a great deal of direction.
At the other extreme are social settings where the official culture offers relatively little direction. This is often the case with a new group spontaneously coming together in response to some unusual or troubling incident. Take for example, a student crowd which gathers to protest a raise in university tuition. The crowd is not bound by the culture of a formal organization which indicates 1) who is a member (if it is in a public area anyone, in priniciple, is "eligible" for membership), 2) what social roles will be present and who will perform these (e.g., will a leader appear, and if so, who will this be, the angriest, the first to arrive, or the person with the foresight to bring a portable microphone?), 3) what the group's goals are and how these should be decided (e.g., will the group demand that the increase be rescinded, that the head of the college resign, that students be placed on the college's governing body, or, given diversity within the crowd, perhaps no common goal[s] will emerge, 4) what means will be adopted (e.g. will the crowd's behavior consist of milling around, listening to speeches, signing petitions, marching, chanting, or attempting some direct action, such as a sit-in?), 5) what other groups will get involved --students who support the increase, non-college town youth who are resentful of college students, other student or non-student political organizations with their own agenda, faculty or college administrators, police? 6) the temporal and geographical location of the behavior (e.g. where and when will the crowd gather and when will it break up, will other meetings be held, will an organization (newly formed or already existing) come to pursue the crowd's goals, will other meetings be held, will the protest spread to other students not present or to other issues, will the protest spread to other campuses facing similiar increases?
While the study of collective behavior offers ample grounds for informed prediction about such protests in the aggregate (that is considering a large number of instances), for any given case we can not know the answers beforehand. Answers will be found only by our observing the interaction that occurs at the scene. The emergent quality of interaction that may characterize a crowd becomes even clearer when we consider a very large number of persons interacting over a period of time. The reciprocal responses of thousands of persons simply can't be known in advance.
Many situations fall between the extremes of clearly defined and highly specified cultural dictates and the absence of any guidelines. Let us consider three intermediate examples: contests, celebrations and disasters. These combine cultural specificity with culturally mandated emergence, depending on which dimension of organization vs. emergence we consider.
In the case of the contest, we have culture offering broad parameters and specific requirements over means, but leaving open how things actually develop and who triumphs. Here a degree of emergence is institutionalized. Contrast a U.S. presidential election with the carefully detailed procedure for choosing the English crown or the one-candidate elections of traditional totalitarian countries. Or contrast an audience event such as a basketball game with a play or symphony. The outcome of the latter show relatively little emergence. Things are programmed beforehand. While no two performances by the same orchestra will ever be exactly alike, they will show remarkable parallels given the fact that the same musical score is being followed. Contrast this with a contest which, by definition, must be open-ended. For example, in a college basketball game while there is prior agreement about where and when the game will be played, who is eligible to play and what the rules of the game are, it is not known beforehand (at least in the sense of being culturally mandated) who will win, if there will be an overtime, what the score will be, how the score will be obtained (e.g., who will score, when, in what way, how the lead may alternate), how strategies and players will mesh, if the game will be well played and exciting, what role momentum will play, and if the audience will be enthusiastic or bored. Strikes are a related example. Since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act and related legislation in the 1930s, workers have been granted the legal right to strike. Yet the outcome depends on the resources and strategy of labor and management.
Many celebrations have a similar indeterminate or emergent status. They are institutionalized in the sense that they are expected and even tolerated, yet there is much room for emergence. Thus while crowd revelry on Halloween, New Years Eve, Mardi Gras, or after an important athletic victory can be anticipated, the exact boundaries and course of the crowd behavior is not very clearly defined. What happens depends partly on how people interact, how inebriated they are, the weather (e.g. does it rain or not), whether innovative behavior appears which others copy, and whether some critical incident occurs which serves to inspire others, or engender a common emotion in many persons such as anger or fear. It is not clear how far the institutionalized license for celebration extends. Up to a point, officials may ignore behavior they would attempt to control at other times. Yet just how far the crowd will go before control appears is not known, nor can we know in concrete detail what the course and outcome of efforts to exercise control will be.
Certain disaster settings also show an intermediate position with respect to emergence. Thus, the exact place and time of a fire, explosion, traffic accident, earthquake, or tornado, is not usually known in advance (or is known for only a short time as with floods and hurricanes), but there are prior cultural prescriptions and resources to deal with these incidents which we know are likely to occur. Much of the unfolding of the incident is emergent. It depends on the behavior and interaction of various groups such as victims, spectators, exploiters, and professional and volunteer rescue workers (who may not have worked together before); the extent of resources made available by various levels of government, private groups, or a concerned public, as well as natural conditions such as wind and temperature.
In contrasting extreme settings where culture offers very specific guidelines, such as the factory, as against settings where far fewer guidelines are offered, as with the protest crowd, we are dealing with relative differences. Of course, persons in our protest crowd share important elements of American culture and are a part of various university or neighborhood social networks. These effect the range of options they consider an shape the manner in which they behave. For example, even the idea of a protest crowd involves the notion that persons are entitled to certain things and that coming together to protest is an appropriate means of redress. Judged historically this is a new idea. The crowd is most likely to gather at a place such as a quadrangle, student center, stadium, or plaza where crowds traditionally gather and at a time such as noon, the late afternoon, or evening when persons do not have classes or work. The effect of culture can be seen in more subtle ways such as how close persons stand to each other, the language and themes developed in speeches, how people dress, and the protest strategies chosen.
Conversely, even situations of great cultural specificity are likely to have some openness and emergence. Looked at closely enough, processes and outcomes within equivalent highly specified cultural settings will show unique elements. Culture does not (and could not) determine all behavior. There is a sense in which all social behavior is characterized by emergent elements. We can rarely know in exact detail how any given social encounter, let alone more complex activities such as a surgical operation or a football game, will develop. There are simply too many possible contingencies and too many unknowns in the environment. Beyond this, individuals are unique in many ways and their responses cannot always be anticipated, even when we know what they will be responding to and how they are normatively supposed to respond. There is ample room for individual activity and style and non-cultural elements to appear within the general normative framework. The mere presence of rules is no guarantee that they will produce predictable behavior (e.g., in a wedding the groom or bride may decide not to go along as in the film The Graduate, the professor may not show up for class, disgruntled workers may walk off the job in a wild-cat strike). But the rules are there. In the absence of extenuating circumstances, they offer broad guidelines for behavior (though to be sure there is always some negotiation around what the rules mean and how they apply in specific situations).
Thus, even at our extremes, there will be emergent behavior in highly organized settings and cultural elements in the most emergent settings. Yet the contrast remains useful in conceptualizing collective behavior.
The greater open-ended quality (at least from a standpoint of the presence of cultural standards and formal organization) of a spontaneously gathered crowd illustrates the major element of collective behavior: it is emergent. We should note two important features of emergence, (1) it is multi-dimensional (table I lists some major dimensions), and (2) each dimension can be conceived on a continuum moving from a maximum degree of cultural specification to a maximum degree of emergence (rather than a mere presence or absence).
Emergence is thus a question of degree with respect to both which dimensions are present and how far toward the emergent side the behavior falls. It is rare that any complex event can be neatly characterized at the same extreme on all 10 dimensions of emergence - cultural specification. Life is more complicated than that. Yet, at the extreme, the difference is clear. Collective behavior phenomena fall toward the emergent side of these continua. In table II, collective behavior involves study of the phenomena showing an intermediate or high degree of emergence.
Beyond its usefulness in separating collective behavior from conventional behavior, a degree of emergence can also be one means of distinguishing among types of collective behavior. For example, short lived phenomena such as fads and protest crowds tend to show a much higher degree of emergence than do social movements. As we note in Chapters 4 and 5, over an extended time period movements that endure come to be like formal organizations.
Some observers define collective behavior as unstructured or unorganized behavior. But this does not necessarily follow from our defining the behavior as emergent. The degree and type of organization present are important factors in differentiating varieties of collective behavior. The point is not that organization is absent in collective behavior, but rather that a significant amount of the behavior which appears (whatever its degree of organization) develops out of interaction on the spot, rather than being in response to prior cultural directives. Turner and Killian (1987) stress the importance of "emergent norms" for understanding collective behavior.
In developing the contrast between emergent and culturally specified behavior, we can differentiate between pre- and post-behavior situations. The 10 dimensions shown in Table I can be used to indicate the potential or anticipated role (or non-role) of culture for the situation in question. Used in this way, the emergent sides of these dimensions are like an empty canvas. The fact that from a standpoint of culture, the situation may represent a relatively blank tableau is no guarantee that it will be filled with a colorful collective behavior portrait. For example, in the abstract, culture offers more room for emergence in situations involving a spontaneously gathered protest crowd, as against a factory assembly line, but this tells us nothing about specific situations. Thus a given factory may be experiencing a wild-cat strike or an outbreak of a mysterious illness. The crowd may gather but not take any concerted action. It may not come up with a common plan for action and neither leaders, nor new norms emerge. The crowd may break up because of a police order to disperse or a curfew. Most waiting lines and audience situations show little of the kind of collective behavior sociologists study. In some disaster situations, if persons feel overwhelmed and are immobilized, there will be little to study (beyond, of course, studying "resignation" which can be seen as a collective behavior response). Conversely, as we note in the next section, formal organizations frequently are the setting for collective behavior.
Thus after asking how far does culture go in specifying expected behavior in the situation in question, we must observe what actually happens. Is culture a reasonably adequate guide to the activities observed? Where culture is relatively absent, does richly textured collective behavior emerge, or does nothing much happen?
One final point about emergence: it also characterizes much individual behavior. We are constantly interpreting our environment and making choices in response to changing stimuli. Culture leaves us considerable room. For example, culture will probably not tell us precisely what clothes you are wearing, which shoe you put on first, where (and if) you choose to eat breakfast, what and how much you will eat, where you will sit, whether you go to class, what you will do once you get there (take notes, read the paper, fall asleep), what you will do between classes and so on. Your behavior in these areas will emerge largely from your assessment of what to do in the situations in question. The situations you confront (which themselves are always somewhat fluid and unpredictable) and your own feelings and interpretations will lead to particular lines of action. Yet for obvious reasons this would not be characterized as collective behavior, nor would the culturally innovative behavior of an isolated individual, though these may be emergent and stand in a special relation to conventional culture. Collective behavior is group behavior. It is social and involves persons responding to each other, or the same stimulus, rather than the behavior of isolated individuals.
Some Additional Characteristics
The fact that collective behavior is emergent means that the topics chosen for the study often display two characteristics:
(1) they appear, diffuse, contract or change form suddenly and unexpectedly. (2) those involved show a relatively high degree of personal engagement. The behavior itself may not be new (buying or selling, taking money out of a bank, moving from one place to another) are hardly innovative activities as such. However, when large numbers of persons unexpectedly behave in similar fashion (and often with intensity) such as withdrawing savings from a bank, migrating to Alaska in a gold rush, investing everything they own in the purchase of tulips -- as happened in Holland's 1634 tulip mania -- we are likely dealing with an event sociologists would study as collective behavior. Words frequently used to describe collective behavior, such as cataclysmic, volatile, unscheduled, spontaneous, capture these qualities. Persons perceive that something out of the ordinary or non-routine is occurring.
The suddenness is illustrated by the fact that (1) collective behavior events are often unexpected at the place and time they occur, (2) the behavior may diffuse rapidly from one person to another in the same environment, (3) the behavior may diffuse from one environment to another, (4) the behavior may change form or rapidly disappear. Examples of this include a crowd which rapidly gathers at the scene of a fire or disaster, a rash of flying saucer sightings, a flu-like epidemic that spreads rapidly among school children for which there is no known medical cause, the surprise appearance and spread of streaking within and between college campuses, the spread of a demonstration or a riot from one city to hundreds of cities, the rock throwing and fighting that may emerge among fans turned away from a sold out rock concert, a crowd which disperses as soon as it starts to rain, a fad which suddenly becomes passe, a social movement which turns from non-violence to violence, or the reverse, are examples. We shall have more to say about these topics in considering the life history approach and collective behavior processes in Chapter II.
Early theorists focused on the psychological state of those involved in collective behavior. Such persons were thought to be excitable, emotional, irrational, regressive and easily led. Such sweeping views of the crowd offered by LeBon (1960) and Freud (1945) among others are now widely rejected. But their view does call attention to the personally engaging quality of much collective behavior (which is not to argue that personal engagement is absent in traditional behavior nor that it is a necessary condition for collective behavior). Participants may feel a sense of urgency and involvement as they become caught up in the situation. In extreme cases there may be a singleness of purpose and parochialism as everything is filtered through the lens of the collective behavior activity. The cool detachment that characterizes much social role playing may not apply. The gap between the private self and social role (where such a role is present) may be lessened or disappear. The personal distancing which roles permit and their prior guidelines which lessen the need for individual attentiveness are lacking.
In addition when greater personal involvement is present it is also likely to be related to (1) self interest in crisis and disaster situations where, given a partial breakdown in social order one must be attentive to survive or obtain one's goals. Prior culture and social structure cannot be automatically relied upon for easy directions and answers. (2) where the behavior in question is seen as bizarre, out of the ordinary and deviant, intense involvement with like-minded others may be necessary to overcome the usual inhibitions and social controls. (3) group settings such as assemblies that are structured to focus attention on a particular activity or situation. As Durkheim ( 1964) observed, it is in group settings that persons often experience feelings of solidarity. Persons who are specialists at audience arousal and involvement such as comedians or political orators, may aid in this. (4) where observers perceive that something out of the ordinary is occurring and where information is limited, curiosity may be heightened. Where the behavior is sudden, novel, and unusual, observers will ask "what's going on?" and "how can people do such things?" This may involve discussing the behavior with others, turning to the media, or rushing to the scene.
Some Dimensions of Emergence-Cultural Specification
Does Culture Specify:
1. Where an episode will
2. When and how it will begin and end?
3. Who will participate, and where applicable, how participants will arrive and disperse from the scene?
4. What the goal(s) are?
5. What rules will govern behavior, (including decision-making)?
6. What resources and facilities will be used?
7. Where applicable, what the division of labor will be and who will play what roles?
8. What will happen in general or specific terms, (how the activity will unfold and develop)?
9. Where applicable, the means whereby the behavior will diffuse to other persons or places?
10. What attitudes and emotions are expected?
D. Collective Behavior
in Diverse Social Settings: Crowds, Masses, and Formal Organizations
Collective behavior is sometimes confused with the setting in which it occurs. It is important to keep these separate. To study a crowd or a mass is not necessarily to study collective behavior. Conversely, to study a formal organization, or to use the concepts and perspective of organizational sociology does not preclude the study of collective behavior. Table III helps to illustrate this. Across the top, the table lists three familiar settings: (1) mass, (2) crowd, (3) formal organization in a fixed location. Along the side in cross tabulation are shown examples of conventional and collective behavior that can occur within each setting.
Strictly speaking, crowds and masses are not examples of collective behavior, nor is a bureaucracy an example of non-collective behavior. Rather, these are types of group settings. The presence or absence of collective behavior, or collective behavior phenomena, depends on what is occurring within them. Traditionally, sociologists have been most likely to do their studies in less formal settings and hence the literature contains much more information on this type of collective behavior phenomena. But the setting should not be equated with the behavior or the process. One of the advances in recent years in the study of collective behavior has been to uncouple structure, behavior and process, and to ask how they are related.
Earlier theorists assumed that collective behavior was found primarily outside of the context of formal organizations. There are some obvious reasons why this might be expected. Thus, when formal organizations show an elaborate division of labor, hierarchy, roles, schedules, and directives, there will be less "room" for non-institutional behavior. There may also be less "need" for it, to the extent that collective behavior represents problem solving or adaptive behavior which in the words of Herbert Blumer (1951, p. 130) is "formed or forged to meet undefined or unstructured situations". A crucial aspect of organized settings is the provision of solutions that have evolved from previous problem solving efforts. Finally, organizations have a variety of social control mechanisms. The mere threat of these may prevent collective behavior, or should it appear, social control may be mobilized to stop it. The fact that individuals playing roles within formal organizations are personally identifiable and lack the anonymity offered by a large crowd has been thought to inhibit collective behavior.
The historical definition of collective behavior as unstructured, unorganized behavior, with unique properties, also drew attention away from organizations. In addition, many of the most dramatic and hence newsworthy examples of collective behavior seem to occur in crowds or the mass. The conventional behavior commonly occurring in such settings or the collective behavior in formal organizations receives far less attention.
However, in the last decade, sociologists have increasingly questioned this too-easy equation of collective behavior and non-organized settings, and lack of sufficient attention to variables of an organizational nature. While by definition, the behavior as such is less institutionalized, this does not lead to the conclusion that it will never occur within, or be linked to, formal organizations. Recent research on mobilization and access to resources, has increasingly focused on collective behavior and formal organizations  Three major links between collective behavior and formal organizations can be noted: (1) the conduciveness of organizational settings to mobilization for collective behavior, (2) organizations as sources of problems and discontent which may lead to collective behavior and serve as arenas for its appearance and (3) the direct role of organizations in producing collective behavior.
Most formal organizations involve the periodic assembling of relatively large numbers of persons. Communication channels are pre-established (whether formal or informal). No specific mechanisms are needed to draw people together, should some unusual event occur. In a sense, they are often a captive audience when a fire, explosion, or black-out occurs. Some work settings such as mines or munitions factories are more likely to be cites for accidents than other settings. Community-wide crisis occurring during week days, such as an earthquake, may be experienced within a formal organizational context such as work or school. Such settings are also conducive to the spread of fads, crazes, hysterical contagion, and rumors. The appearance of fads on college and high school campuses has been partly explained by the fact that students are so easily mobilized, given their location on the campus. Fads can easily diffuse through pre-established friendship, dormitory, and special interest networks.
Organizations are a major source of the strains, grievances, dissatisfactions, and frustrations that lie behind social unrest. A major point of the historical work of Charles Tilly (1990) on protest in Western Europe is that as organization changes so does the nature of collective behavior. The experience of individuals within organizations may give rise to specific and concrete concerns. Persons with shared grievances who are in daily interaction may engage in collective protest. The potential of formal organizations to generate collective behavior is highlighted by coercive "total institutions," such as prisons and mental hospitals, where persons are held against their will, and where their lives are highly regimented. Recurrent prison riots are a good example. Among the most dramatic and shocking collective behavior incidents in recent years were the tragic uprisings at prisons in Attica, New York in 1971 and New Mexico in 1980. Collective behavior involving labor issues cannot be understood apart from the formal organization of the workplace. Strikes, whether wild-cat or institutionalized, usually emerge directly from this. Protest involving racial or sexual discrimination in employment also emerge out of such focused contexts.
The strains and discontentment generated by a formal organization obviously need not result in organized protest. Persons may have only a vague or diffuse notion of what is wrong, or blame themselves. The costs of resistance may be too high -- loss of job, jail, or physical violence. Or resistance may be piecemeal, individual, and hidden as with careless or slow work, theft, or industrial sabotage.
Indirect collective behavior responses may appear. For example, Kerkoff and Back (1968) trace the causes of the "June Bug" epidemic, a mysterious illness with no clear medical cause that occurred among workers in a Southern textile factory, to problems in the work setting. Such outbreaks, which are often given the unfortunate label of "hysterical contagion," seem to occur disproportionately in work and school settings. The term is unfortunate because it is not clear that the involved persons are hysterical, nor that the mechanism for diffusion is analogous to a physical contagion process.
Still another link (apart from whether or not collective behavior occurs unintentionally within a setting of formal organization) is the role organizations may play in generating or entering into collective behavior situations. An important source of continuity between collective behavior and conventional behavior lies here. The most obvious example is the social movement organization, which if often more fluid in its initial stage, never-the-less may come to show many of the characteristics of formal organizations. The movement itself may be the self-contained setting for the behavior in question. This is the case with a sect or utopian community which does not seek recruits and isolates itself from non-believers. Or the movement may be the means whereby collective behavior is produced in more diffuse settings such as the crowd or the mass, or in other organizations. An important part of the activity of many social movements is carried out in crowds and in efforts to communicate with a mass audience. Social movements strategically use short term collective behavior incidents such as marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations as resources in seeking change. For example by demonstrating, picketing, boycotting and engaging in civil disobedience activists seek to impose costs on an adversary. Such activities will cease if protesters are granted their goals. Collective behavior directed toward a more diffuse mass or public, may be carried out in the hope of gaining new members or sympathizers, and publicizing the issues.
Organizations that are not social movements may also be involved in the production of collective behavior. This may be quite overt as with fashion and leisure activities industries. Fashion in women's clothes, for examples, shows elements which are highly organized. Each season at a given place and time, well known organizations present their new fashions. The means by which these are sold to the public are also institutionalized. The Wham-O Corporation which sells hula-hoops and frisbies has shown rare brilliance in being able to create fads and market fads. The collective behavior lies in the public's response. There are many organized presenters and only some of their products will catch on. A distinction can be made between There are also fads which spread spontaneously without the organized action of entrepreneurs.
While they react to likely collective behavior settings, rather than seeking to produce them, emergency service organizations, such as fire, police, rescue and disaster relief groups, offer additional examples of the interweaving of organizations and collective behavior. These organizations become central actors in contexts where emergent behavior is likely.
The organization lying behind collective behavior may be covert. Governments, for example, often have a strong interest in promoting or discouraging mass action (in either their own or other countries). For example, the role of the CIA in Iran's 1953 revolution which placed the Shah (the ruler overthrown by Khomeni) in power is well documented, as is the support given by the former Soviet Union to the Chinese revolution. Recent decades in the U.S. have seen many examples of agent provocateur activity. While this usually involved the actions of individuals, it sometimes involved founding and providing funds and leaders for social movement organizations. During the 1960's, the U.S. government secretly started student, anti-war and klan groups [Marx, 1974, Church Committee, 1976].
Public relations, advertising, and marketing organizations sometimes work for social movements, as well as more traditional commercial clients. Political consulting is a profession which came to prominence in the 1970's. Part of the success of right wing groups in the U.S. in the early 1980's was due to skillful organizational efforts drawing on mail communications and advertising technology. Awareness of the covert sources of some social movement support and the role of professionals should encourage a questioning perspective in the observer of collective behavior. The study of deception should be a part of this field. Without falling prey to simplistic conspiracy theories, we must ask to what extent is behavior that appears spontaneous and emergent, in fact contrived and manipulated?
Another link between collective behavior and organizations can been seen in one of the life history or career path models of collective behavior. To understand the antecedents, or important changes, in an organization may require the study of collective behavior. Christianity, for example, grew out of a humble social movement led by an outsider. Established American religious groups such as the Mormons and Christian Scientists also had their origins in social movements. Venerable organizations such as the YMCA, Salvation Army and Boy Scouts began as social movements. A great many other examples could be given.
In other cases, while the movement may not become a conventional organization, its goals or style may be taken over by established organizations. For example, the Democratic party adopted many of the demands put forth by Norman Thomas' socialist party in the 1930's. A related pattern characterizes some spontaneously arising fads. Once it becomes clear that there is a market, profit seeking organizations may become involved and seek to shape and direct it.
Moving back a stage on the social movement -organizational model, calls attention to one way which social movement organizations and more emergent forms of collective behavior may be related. The temporally sequential relation noted previously, where social movements use crowds and attempt to reach mass audiences may be reversed. Thus a crisis or troubling situation may lead to crowd behavior, which in turn leads to the formation of a social movement. For example as we note in our consideration of social movements, the 1964 University of California's Berkeley Free Speech movement developed out of demonstrations against new campus restrictions which denied students the right to hand out political literature. The many individuals and organizations who were involved in the initial mass protest event went on to create a more organized movement which was effective in obtaining many of its goals.
Finally, social movements can ironically be the organizational setting for internal collective behavior. This may involve fad-like elements such as music, language, hair, and dress style (e.g., the folk music, ghetto slang, long hair, sandals, and jeans of 60's activists which later spread to the non-involved). The distinctive behavior of a fad may have symbolic meaning and contribute to the identity of the movement and the individuals within it. It may increase the internal solidarity of a social movement and serve as an integrative mechanism.
Social movements are also often the setting for short term collective behavior of a protest nature. Struggles over power, ideology, and tactics occur frequently. One common split involves moderates and radicals. The group out of power may turn the collective behavior tactics they are experienced in using, inward. A major dynamic in the study of social movements involves endemic factionalism.
Of course, the developments noted in the above three paragraphs are not invariant. Most social movement organizations are unsuccessful in institutionalizing their goals. Most crowds do not result in the formation of social movements. Some crowd activity such as scape-goating, gang struggles, or ecstatic expression may prevent, or inhibit social movement involvement and social change. Such activity may have a cathartic effect, or involve erroneous beliefs about the cause and appropriate solution of a problem. Widespread involvement in fads or crazes, with their focus on the self and immediate gratification, can be an alternative to involvement in a social movement, rather than helping to bolster one. For example, at the height of their popularity, the Soviet newspaper Pravda attacked the Beatles, claiming that they took attention away from the problems of capitalist societies. But the links considered in the previous paragraphs alert us to connections which are often present. They are further examples of the need to consider organizational factors in the study of collective behavior. We can thus find good reasons why formal organizations will often be the setting for and/or the agent of collective behavior.
Earlier theorists some of whom were unduly captivated by the supposedly spontaneous, unstructured, sudden, populist, excitable quality of collective behavior, went too far in separating collective from conventional behavior. They generally denied, or chose not to see, the many ways that organizational behavior could be intertwined with collective behavior. Recent theorists have taken a broader view of social behavior and have argued for the general applicability of conventional sociological perspectives. Yet it is equally erroneous to go to the other extreme and ignore the many instances of collective behavior which occur outside the settings of formal organization. In short, our approach should be flexible and allow for the fact that collective behavior will occur in a variety of settings, and within (and across) these settings will show varying degrees of emergence and organization.
Degree of Emergence-Cultural
Specification in Selected Settings
|High degree of emergence||Intermediate||High degree of cultural specification|
|Spontaneous crowd||Contests||Conbventional church service|
|Many fads||Many disasters/emergencies||Weddings|
|Waiting lines||Many celebrations||Classroom|
|Most social movements||Factory assembly line|
|Sponsored fads||Concert (but contrast a symphony with a jazz band)|
Collective and Conventional
Behavior May Occur in the Same Setting
|Mass||Crowd||Formal Organization (in a fixed place)|
|Conventional Behavior||Routine national stock market transactions||Card tricks at college
|Factory assembly line|
|Collective Behavior||Wearing yellow ribbon while American hostages were held in Iran||1963 March on Washington||Wildcat strike, many social movements|
E. Contexts Where Traditional
Culture is an Inadequate Guide to Understanding Behavior
A major tool that sociologists use in understanding behavior is culture. We assume that much human behavior represents the playing out of social roles that we learn as we grow up or enter new settings. These roles are defined by expectations of how one is to behave, whether as a parent, a student, or an employee. To understand behavior sociologists usually first look to culture, and the related concept of social organization, rather than to interaction or the psychology of the individual. Our definition of collective behavior stresses its relative independence of, or its opposition to, traditional culture. Much of what sociologists study as collective behavior occurs within settings where traditional cultural explanations are non-applicable, or not very useful as guides for understanding behavior. Studies of collective behavior can be usefully organized by noting whether they occur in contexts in which culture is (1) indifferent, (2) inadequate, or (3) in dispute.
With respect to cultural indifference, there are vast areas about which culture is very general or silent. This may stem from the impossibility of offering detailed cultural specification or from a value commitment to freedom, diversity, and discretion. Thus, the culture specifies that people wear clothes. But within this, there is much room for individual taste, preference, and expression, even if there are broad constraints (e.g. the expectation that clothes will be gender appropriate). Other areas, such as how people should spend their leisure, are even less defined. The culture allows for innovations such as hoola-hoops, stuffing phone booths (a fad popular among college students in the 1950s) and for varying hair and skirt lengths. This openness of culture (and sometimes even a preference for diversity) creates a vacuum. It is within these "optional" areas that many of the fads and fashions studied by sociologists appear. Cultures vary with respect to the breadth of their "zones of tolerance," and the extent to which entrepreneurs seek to generate novel behavior. In a market economy such as in the United States, with elaborate product differentiation and channels for diffusion, fads are very common. Another area of cultural silence involves giving persons discretion over elements such as the timing of an activity. While a well developed normative system seeks to control commercial transactions, individuals are usually left considerable options with respect to buying and selling or taking money out of, or putting it into a bank.
A related instance where culture is rather indifferent or non-specific, involves otherwise unrelated persons in newly formed, unplanned, transitory face-to-face groups such as waiting lines and assemblies (e.g., persons who gather at the scene of an accident or to hear speeches in a public square). Their behavior is generally not pre-specified by the dimensions in Table I. Those present are unlikely to be bound together by membership in the same formal organization, nor membership in the same informal primary group networks. Of course, the range of tolerated behavior in a gathering varies significantly by context. For example, contrast the extent of the residual crowd behavior seen as acceptable in the bleachers at a baseball game on a hot Sunday afternoon to that seen as acceptable among those attending a Supreme Court session or a conventional church service.
Societies and social settings can be contrasted by the extent to which they are conducive to the appearance of such groups. Urban mass society is continually bringing together and dispersing strangers in temporary gatherings.
A second area for collective behavior research involves contexts where the cultural guidelines are inadequate. It is not that culture is permissive as above, but that it is inadequate in some objective way. In many crisis situations, major elements of the social order break down. The system is disrupted. Traditional rules or resources are simply unable to cope with some new situation, though in the absence of the crisis, cultural guidelines were adequate. Within such settings, collective behavior may be adaptive and problem solving (involving innovations and heroic actions), or opportunistic and exploitive (looting and predatory violence). A third area for collective behavior research involves situations of dissensus where persons reject some of the dictates and operation of the dominant culture. It is within this area that we find much social movement activity --whether of a protest or escapist nature. Cultural directives accepted by and working for those in positions of power are present. But they are disputed. Subordinate persons may be unable to obtain what they feel they are entitled to -freedom, dignity, equality, tolerance or opportunity if they accept the dominant culture (e.g. the situation for non-whites in South Africa).
Protest movements questioning the legitimacy of traditional practices offer an alternative. The movement may direct its activities against a regime (the campaign of civil disobedience led by Ghandi against British Colonialism), an organization (a student sit-in), or a set of more diffuse cultural practices (the way women are treated). The movement may take action which directly challenges what is disputed, for example refusing to pay a tax perceived as unjust; a racially integrated group seeking service in a segregated restaurant; students defying a school appearance and dress code (e.g. males letting their hair grow long or females wearing pants). But more often, the disputed cultural element can not be directly altered by the actions of those seeking change, for example, an end to employment discrimination against women or the physically handicapped. In such cases the collective behavior often consists of using unconventional and/or non-institutionalized means as a bargaining resource and to publicize the issue. For example the Eighteenth Century bread riots studied by Rude  and Hobsbaum  appeared when the price of flour became exorbitant. At such times citizens would band together, take over a mill and sell the flour at a price they thought was fair.
F. Some Difficulties in
Studying Collective Behavior and Efforts to Overcome Them
Sociologists assume that the knowledge produced in any society represents something more than merely the neutral transmission of objective reality. The sociologist is more like a water color painter than a photographer. Certain elements are highlighted while others are ignored. The final image is very much filtered by the materials and perceptions of the observer. The knowledge that is produced depends partly on how we frame a question, the resources available for research, the methods selected for study, the conditions under which data are gathered, the concepts and theories used to order the data and sometimes how we personally feel about what is being studied. The nature of the phenomena can have important implications for our ability to study it. Collective behavior while sharing much with other areas of sociological inquiry, has some distinctive elements which affect research and knowledge.
It is easier to gather good quality sociological data on phenomena that are (a) predictable [we know when and where they will occur, how long they will last, what direction they will take] re-occurring, and relatively unchanging; (b) clearly bounded; (c) last long enough to be studied; and (d) offer easy and safe research access with cooperative and relatively objective subjects. The above conditions can permit prior planning, systematic sampling, and replicating the work of others. Such conditions are rarely maximized for any social phenomena. But they are even less present for many instances of collective behavior.
We have already referred to the diversity of phenomena that are treated as collective behavior. Yet even within the same broad type (such as a protest demonstration or a disaster) the focus is not so much on a specific singular act by one person, as on interaction and different types of behavior. We often seek to understand collective behavior "incidents" or "episodes." This calls for a different level and mode of analysis than focusing on the behavior of an individual or a particular social structure such as a factory or a school. The collective behavior sociologists seek to explain emerges out of considering many individual and joint actions over the life of an incident.
This behavior may go on spontaneously and unpredictably in many geographical areas and involve very large numbers of people. For example, in an act of scape-goating, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Russian mobs attacked Jews in more than 200 cities. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Blacks took to the streets in several hundred American cities to express their anger and dismay. Collective behavior may disappear or totally change form as quickly as it appeared. To understand this is an infinitely more complex undertaking than to focus on only one aspect of predictable behavior of the discrete individual at one point in time, as much of sociological research does (e.g., studying a person's voting, educational, or work behavior). Introducing a temporal dimension to any social phenomena greatly complicates the analysis.
The very terms often used to describe collective behavior suggests something of the increased difficulty that can surround efforts to study it: "spontaneous," "emergent," "groundswell," "outburst," "outpouring," "explosion." As later chapters will indicate, the extent to which a given form of collective behavior should be characterized by such terms is a question for empirical research. But such terms call attention to the unpredictable, non-routine, sudden, and sometimes even surprising, shocking, or dangerous quality of collective behavior events. With respect to research access, accidental factors (happening to be on the scene when an unexpected instance of collective behavior occurs) play a greater role than is the case for areas of sociological concern involving more regularized and predictable behavior.
Our methods and theories are better suited to studying phenomena that are static and to doing studies at one point in time. Sociologists find it easier to study structure than process (e.g., to study how a bureaucracy is organized rather than insurgent challenges to it).
Persons who study bureaucracies, families, schools, or workplaces may feel neutral about them. But this is less often the case for those who study forms of collective behavior such as social movements. Researchers are prone to take sides and this may affect their degree of objectivity. Indeed, personal concerns over the issue are often what leads to the research. Such researchers may wish to provide knowledge that can aid a group they support and hinder those they oppose. Even our choice of language may reveal something about how we view a group, before we ever begin any research. For example, what should we call the actions in urban Black areas from 1964-1968 -- riots, civil disorders, or rebellions, crime or protest? Was the 1964 sit-in at the University of California administration building in Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, a valiant act of protest against the denial of civil liberties or criminal trespass? (This was the first major incident in the white student movement of the 1960s to attract sustained national news media attention).
Collective behavior which involves intensely hostile feelings and/or crisis conditions may not be conducive to the calm and objective probing of the researcher. Researchers studying a movement they support and activists whose dedication and courage they admire, may experience feelings of guilt or bad faith about merely observing.
The nature and magnitude of some crises can render efforts to carry on research in their midst profane, immoral, and even destructive. In a disaster where all hands may be needed to look for missing persons or fill sandbags, social research appears to be a luxury. As a graduate student, one of the authors recalls his anger and disbelief at the behavior of a fellow sociologist on November 22, 1963. As soon as the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination was reported in the media, the intrepid researcher began carrying out interviews to determine how news of the incident had spread and how people responded. The scientific yield from this was modest, but even if it had been greater, would the contribution to knowledge justify his insensitive probing at a time when most Americans were overwhelmed and stunned by the horror of that day?
In polarized conflict settings, participants may feel that "if you are not with us, you are against us," or that "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." Researchers may be suspected of being police agents or spies for those in positions of power and find little cooperation. Those involved in the collective behavior may try to use researchers for public relations purposes, offering distorted information to put their group in the best possible light. There may be grave personal risks in being present in some situations. Researchers who ventured out to study the civil disorders of the 1960's could be subjected to tear gas, shooting, arrest, and physical assault. Those who hurry to the scene of a disaster to study responses may be subjected to some of the dangers and deprivations faced by others. While most people's response is to flee the scene of an earthquake, flood, nuclear accident, or war zone, researchers, like reporters, must move to them in order to understand what is going on.
G. Some Consequences for
What are the consequences for knowledge of the fact that collective behavior often is unpredictable, inaccessible to researchers, changes form, lacks clear boundaries, appears on a vast scale, and involves the study of incidents about which persons have strong feelings? Although collective behavior is among the oldest sociological fields, it is less developed than many others, such as the study of the family or organizations. Systematic inquiry and cumulative knowledge are less in evidence.
Relative to its importance and extensiveness, collective behavior is probably understudied and less well studied. There are major topics on which we have minimal information. For example, little is known about crowd dynamics and the social psychological condition of persons during actual instances of crowd activity. We know much more about the prior correlates and consequences of crowds than we do about what goes on within them.
The unpredictable, stressful, and restricted conditions under which some collective behavior must be studied may limit data quality. The intrinsic human interest character of so much of the topic and the researcher's frequent concern with telling the story of an incident or group, may mean great attention to descriptive detail and less attention to building and testing theory. With less valid and reliable data available, there is greater room for ideology and personal preferences to shape what we claim to know. This may be exacerbated because of the strong feelings researchers and those researched have about the topic. The pronounced political and value-laden nature of many collective behavior topics may make it harder to see clearly, ask the relevant questions, and accept answers contrary to what we would like the truth to be. There may be a tendency to explain the behavior of groups the researcher supports in light of high principal, ideology, social conditions, and grievances that "naturally call forth protest," and to ignore mixed motives, psychological factors, and discrediting behavior. While the behavior of groups the researcher opposes and sees as threatening may be explained in more negative psychological terms (psycho-pathology, social isolation, marginality, authoritarian personality, inadequate socialization, or arrested development). In addition, discreditable behavior may be highlighted and creditable behavior minimized.
For the beginning student, what counts is understanding what collective behavior is, what questions it raises, what concepts, theories, and methods have been used to address these, and what some of the major research results and conclusions are. Concern with a score card comparing development of this to other fields of sociological inquiry is best left to those whose careers involve worrying about such matters. However, to understand the field, it is useful to have a sense of how the nature of the subject matter and the concerns of those involved in collective behavior (whether as participants or researchers) may condition the knowledge that is produced.
Yet, the news is not all bad. With an abundance of new and traditional phenomena to study, important theoretical developments and new methods, collective behavior has been one of sociology's most expansive and vital areas in the last decade. Researchers find ways to deal with the limitations noted. How do they do this?
First, obstacles are not as great as they may initially appear to be. Difficulties can be exaggerated. Some problems are more apparent than real or may actually offer advantages. While the factors considered above certainly bear upon the quality and type of data available, they are not of such magnitude as to preclude research, or the development of knowledge. For many instances of collective behavior, such obstacles are minimal or absent. For example, much crowd behavior, whether football rallies or protest marches, is planned in advance and publicly announced. Audiences, whether in theaters, churches, or sports stadiums, are a regular and highly predictable feature of our society. Even when one cannot predict the exact time and place that crowds will gather, one can predict with a high degree of certainty that crowds will form under certain conditions -- as at the scene of an accident or fire. Researchers monitoring emergency radio frequencies can easily find such locations.
While a crisis atmosphere may inhibit checking information, or gathering some kinds of data, it may offer other compensations. The crisis may make apparent social factors that are usually hidden, or of which people are unaware. Persons may be more candid than under conventional circumstances. There may be a strong desire to tell outsiders what happened. Fad participants are often quite open to being studied. Indeed, an element in their participation may be a desire to communicate their behavior to a broader audience. Social movements may want their story told in the belief that this will gain support. Some collective behavior participants, believing that they are making history, may keep detailed accounts of their activities.
The unusual or exotic nature of some mass behavior, and the publicity attending it, can mean that people are more likely to take note of it and that information is readily available. Indeed, this fact has lead some critics to claim that the image sociologists have of collective behavior is distorted because it relies disproportionately on available media accounts of exotic "man-bites-dog" varieties of collective behavior. Our attention is drawn to the collective behavior of strange fads or angry crowds and we miss collective behavior in more routine settings such as organizations. But whatever the truth of this claim, it is clear that the researcher is offered a steady stream of material to study.
We cannot and should not eliminate values from social research. However, researchers should acknowledge their values and should be sensitive to how values and political positions may bare on the results and interpretation of their research. The reader should ask "how does the researcher appear to feel about the group or incident being studied?" Would a researcher from a different background with opposite feelings about the topic do research in the same way and reach the same conclusions?
It is correct that the specifics of a given collective behavior phenomenon are unique (in the 1920's, some college students swallowed goldfish, in the 1970's, some engaged in streaking, in the 1980s, some died their hair purple). But the sociologist need not (and should not!) stop with a rich description of what people are doing and feeling. Unlike the journalist or historian whose specialties keep them close to the facts, the sociologist can operate at a more abstract level. For example, he or she seeks to discover similar causes, forms and processes which occur during fads, regardless of their substance. The fact that at the most concrete level each collective behavior incident has unique elements does not prevent the sociologist from seeking their more generalized features.
In the next chapter we consider some collective behavior processes that cut across the various forms. We then turn to particular types. Chapter 3 considers collective behavior in settings where the culture is tolerant or indifferent (fads) and where it may be ineffective (disasters). Chapters 4 and 5 consider the emerging and mature protest movements as examples of collective behavior in settings where important cultural elements are in dispute. The final chapter summarizes some of the major conclusions, considers the meaning of collective behavior for understanding society and speculates on collective behavior in the future.
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