Sociology Index


Collective behavior is defined as activity involving a large number of people that is often spontaneous. Social movements are organized and relatively sustained activities that have a clear goal in terms of achieving or preventing social change. Collective behavior is the actions taken by people gathered together usually in defiance of society's norms. In every society and civilization people have absorbed themselves in episodes of collective behavior such as the crowd, the riot, and revolution. These collective behavior episodes has evolved into a field of sociology and a concept known as collective behavior.

The Importance of Learning Collective Behavior
Studying collective behavior can be very practical and useful in today's society. There have been many accounts of crowds, mobs and riots that have turned dangerous. Studying collective behavior will allow people to better understand how people respond in certain situations.

What Is Collective Behavior?

Groups taking to the streets protesting against a certain action. Groups taking to the streets demanding or opposing certain rights or discrimination. These come under collective behavior. Collective behavior includes a range of behaviors based on concern and attitude or just panic and fads. Collective behavior includes many sociological sub-fields.

Examples of Collective Behavior

Collective behavior is explained on the basis of simultaneous presence of a number of people who share the same predispositions, which are activated by the event or object toward which their common attention is directed. Riots, Rumors, Mass Hysteria, and Moral Panics, Fads, Fashions, revolutions, lynching, manias and crazes, all occur as collective behavior.

An expressive crowd is a collection of people who gather primarily to be excited and to express one or more emotions. Examples include a religious revival, a political rally for a candidate, and events like Mardi Gras. Goode (1992, p. 23). The line between a conventional crowd and an expressive crowd is not always clear-cut. Because excitement and emotional expression are defining features of expressive crowds, individuals in such crowds are engage in collective behavior. A protest crowd is a collection of people who gather to protest a political, social, cultural, or economic issue. The gatherings of people who participate in a sit-in, demonstration, march, or rally are all examples of protest crowds.

Riots may be identified according to the motivation and goals of the participants in the riots. One popular typology distinguishes between protest riots and celebration riots (McPhail, 1994). Revelous riots are the same as the celebration riots already discussed, while issueless riots have no apparent basis or purpose. An example of an issueless riot is the looting and general violence that sometimes occurs during a citywide electrical outage. Protest riots are fundamentally political in nature, while celebration riots are decidedly apolitical.

Riots have been part of American history since the colonial period, when colonists often rioted regarding "taxation without representation" and other issues (Rubenstein, 1970). Once war broke out with England, several dozen more riots occurred as part of the colonists' use of violence in the American Revolution. The famous Shays's Rebellion, discussed in many U.S. history books, began with a riot of hundreds of people in Springfield, Massachusetts. Whites attacked Chinese immigrants because they feared the immigrants were taking jobs from whites and keeping wages lower than they otherwise would have been. Labor riots also became common, as workers rioted to protest inhumane working conditions and substandard pay. A major riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917 took the lives of 39 African Americans and 9 whites. During the 1960s, riots took place in many Northern cities as African Americans reacted violently to reports of police brutality or other unfair treatment.

Rumour is the characteristic mode of communication in collective-behaviour episodes. Turner and Killian (1972). They provide an orientation for the potential actors by helping them develop a common definition of the situation. This aids in the mobilization of the participants for action by identifying a target on a riot or lynching, by attributing cause for problems and failure, and by defining what would be an appropriate course of action.

Panics tend to emerge from crowd situation such as fire in a cinema hall, hotel etc., but in some situations it emerges inspite of physical and psychological distance of the people involved in the panic.

Fads and fashions do not depend upon the physical proximity of participants and can affect the behaviour of individuals in widely dispersed circumstances. They tend to be “crowd” phenomena, unlike many collective episodes.

Collective Behavior Abstracts

The Collective Dynamics of Belief
Duncan J. Watts, Dept of Sociology, and Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University.
A theme that dominates the Protestant Ethic is that belief precedes rationality. The values by which one economic order can be judged are neither universal nor exogenous, but arise endogenously.

The Crowd and Collective Behavior: Bringing Symbolic Interaction Back In
Clark McPhail, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign - Symbolic Interaction, Fall 2006, Vol. 29, No. 4, Pages 433-464 
Abstract: The importance of symbolic interactionism in the formation of temporary gatherings, in the dynamic alternation between individual and collective actions, and in the dispersal processes.

A Study of Sports Crowd Behavior: The Case of the Great Pumpkin Incident 
Linda Levy, Department of Sociology Rutgers University - Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Vol. 13, No. 2, 69-91 (1989).
Which theory of collective behavior best predicts or explains how crowd processes work prompted this case study. By examining the unfolding of one episode of nonviolent collective behavior at a professional football game, theories of collective behavior are tested for their utility in sports crowd situations.

Collective Behavior in Organizational Settings - Ralph L. Blankenship -Department of Sociology and Anthropology University of Wisconsin-Platteville - Work and Occupations, Vol. 3, No. 2, 151-168 (1976) - Abstract: In a community mental health center which stressed professional colleagueship unilateral use of authority presented recurring contingent crises. Negotiation is the primary mechanism of controlling equals and to indicate collective behavior as an alternative course toward negotiated order.

The Internationalization of Collective Behavior: Lessons from Elian
Abstract: In a comparative international context Cuba is in a pre-transitional political stage in which the systems of social control do not permit the occurrence of organized collective behavior.

The Apparent Madness of Crowds: Irrational collective behavior emerging from interactions among rational agents - Authors: Sitabhra Sinha - 2006
The observation of extremely large fluctuations in the price of financial assets that are not correlated to changes in their fundamental value imply that markets do display irrational behavior.

Mob Sociology and Escalated Force: Sociology's Contribution to Repressive Police Tactics (2000) - By David Schweingruber
Abstract: Mob sociology is derived from sociological theories about crowd behavior, but ignores that crowds occur within a larger social context. Mob sociology is highly compatible with the escalated force style of protest policing.

"The Media as Spur and Spoiler: A Theory of Multiple Influences on Collective Behavior" - David A. Siegel.
Abstract: Individual interests are heterogeneous. People choose whether or not to participate in the behavior based on a comparison of costs and benefits. Social elites who are unified in their interests can play an outsized role in determining participation.

"When Does Repression Work? Collective Behavior Under the Threat of Violence" 
Abstract: Model involving adaptive social learning, shaped by the network structure, targeted repression, and mass media.

Society: Collective Behavior, News and Opinion, and Sociology and Modern Society. by Robert E. Park, Everett Cherrington Hughes - Review Rudolf Heberle - The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jul., 1956), pp. 97-98.

A Test of the Emergent Norm Theory of Collective Behavio
Authors: Aguirre B.E; Wenger D; Vigo G.
Abstract: The timing of evacuation behavior of occupants of the World Trade Center to test predictions from Emergent Norm Theory.

Psychoanalytic Sociology: An Essay on the Interpretation of Historical Data and the Phenomena of Collective Behavior: By Fred Weinstein and Gerald M. Platt. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
Deficiencies of Psychoanalytic Sociology point to a central dilemma of psychoanalysis. For psychoanalysis to be a scientific discipline it must be codified and integrated.

“What's Cool? - Modelling Fashion-like Collective Behavior Emergence from Individual Neuro-psychological Conditioning” - Jorge Simao, Peter M. Todd, Luis Moniz Pereira,
Abstract: A model that shows how mechanisms of neuro-psychological conditioning at individual level can generate the emergence of fashion-like collective behavior.

Exploratory design of collective behavior
Eric Bonabeau, Icosystem Corporation
Agent-based modeling enables us to reproduce emergent phenomena in collective human systems.

Collective Behavior Journals

Mobilization is an international journal of research and theory specializing in social movements, protests and collective behavior.

The Institute of the Study of Collective Behavior and Memory is a non-profit organisation whose general purpose is to pursue research into ancient rituals, myths and legends, symbols, systems of abstract and applied knowledge.

Strands of Theory and Research in Collective Behavior - G T Marx,  J L Wood.

Collective Behavior Books


Neil. J. Smelser, "Some Additional Thoughts on Collective Behavior," in Collective Behavior: A Source Book, ed. M.D. Pugh (West, 1980).


Harry Eckstein, "Explaining Collective Political Violence," in Regarding Politics: Essays on Political Theory, Stability and Change (Univ. of California Press, 1992).

David L. Miller, Introduction to Collective Behavior (Wadsworth, 1985).

R. George Kirkpatrick and Shoon Lio, Course Readings in Collective Behavior (KB Books, 1996)

Gary T. Marx and James L. Wood, "Strands of Collective Behavior Theory and Research," Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 1 (1975).

Neil. J. Smelser, "Some Additional Thoughts on Collective Behavior," in Collective Behavior: A Source Book, ed. M.D. Pugh (West, 1980).

Clark McPhail, "Blumer's Theory of Collective Behavior: The Development of a Non-Symbolic Interaction Explanation." Sociological Quarterly 30 (1989).

Robert W. Balch and Margaret Gilliam, "Devil Worship in Western Montana: A Case Study in Rumor Construction," in The Satanism Scare, ed. James T. Richardson (Aldine De Gruyter, 1991).

Robert Stallings, "Collective Behavior Theory and the Study of Mass Hysteria," Disasters, Collective Behavior, and Social Organization, ed. Russell R. Dynes and Kathleen Tierney (University of Delaware Press, 1994).

Ralph H. Turner, "The Moral Issue in Collective Behavior and Collective Action." Mobilization (1996)

Jerry M. Lewis, "A Study of the Kent State Incident Using Smelser's Theory of Collective Behavior," Sociological Inquiry, vol. 42 (1972).

Patricia A. Turner, "Ambiva lent Patrons: The Role of Rumor and Contemporary Legends in African-American Consumer Decisions," Journal of American Folklore, vol. 105 (1992).

Robert Stallings, "Collective Behavior Theory and the Study of Mass Hysteria," Disasters, Collective Behavior, and Social Organization, ed. Russell R. Dynes and Kathleen Tierney (University of Delaware Press, 1994).

B.E. Aguirre, E.L. Quarantelli, and Jorge L. Mendoza, "The Collective Behavior of Fads: The Characteristics, Effects, and Career of Streaking," American Sociological Review (August 1988).

Clark McPhail, "Individual and Collective Behavior within Gatherings, Demonstrations, and Riots." Annual Review of Sociology 9(1983).

Kathleen J. Tierney, "Property Damage and Violence: A Collective Behavior Analysis," in The Los Angeles Riots: Lessons for the Urban Future, ed. Mark Baldassare (Westview, 1994).

J. David Knotternus, "The Melanesian Cargo Cults: A Test of the Value-Added Theory of Collective Behavior," Sociological Inquiry, vol 53 (Fall 1983).

Steven J. Lilley and Gerald M. Platt, "Correspondents' Images of Martin Luther King Jr.: an Interpretive Theory of Movement Leadership." in Constructing the Social, ed. by Theodore R. Sarbin and John Kitsuse. (Sage, 1994).

Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collection Action - Kindle eBook - David L. Miller (Jan 12, 2014).

Theory of Collective Behavior (Classics of the Social Sciences) - Neil J. Smelser and Gary T. Marx (Aug 23, 2011) - Kindle eBook.

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. -  JAMES SUROWIECKI, ERIK SINGER.