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Group Interaction & Collective Behaviour

In sociology, social action can be put into one of three categories.

  1. Conforming
  2. Deviance
  3. Collective Behaviour

Collective behavior was coined by Robert E. Park and Herbert Blumer and are social processes or events that do not reflect the existing structure of society, seemingly emerging spontaneously.(1)

Deviant action reflects the absent norms in society and conformity reflects the stable norms in society.  Collective behaviour is neither conforming nor deviant and tends to take place when norms or unclear or contradict each other.(1)

There are many different forms of collective behaviour. Scholars tend to differ on what these forms are and what social events fall under them. These are the four forms proposed by Robert Park and Herbert Blumer:(1)

1) The Crowd

A classic treatment of crowds is that of LeBon’s. He interprets crowds, particularly those of the French Revolution as an irrational reversion to raw animal emotions and believed that this is a characteristic of crowds in general. Other scholars agree but believe that crowds are capable of any emotion, including positive ones. Neil Smelser, John Lofland and others have posited that three basic crowd emotions are panic (fear), craze (joy), and hostile outburst (anger).

2) The Public

Robert Park distinguished crowd, which expresses a common emotion, from a public, which discusses a single issue. A public is not an equivalent to everyone in a society. A public begins when the discussion of an issue begins, and ends when it reaches a decision.

3) The Mass

The mass differs from both the crowd and the public in that it is not defined by a form of interaction but by the efforts of those who use the mass media to address an audience.

4) The Social Movement

Park and Blumer identify many types of social movements. There are active social movements such as the French Revolution that attempts to change society and expressive movements such as Alcoholic Anonymous that try to change its members. Social movements often begin as a form of collective behavior but may eventually become firmly established as a social norm.

Within the field of sociology, conformity and deviance are much more popular focuses than collective behaviour. Sociological theories to explain collective behavior include are Contagion Theory, Convergence Theory, Emergent-Norm Theory and Complex Adaptive Systems Theory.(1)


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