Theories of Collective Behavior
Emergent Norm Theory
Normal life is governed by norms which guide behavior. This makes life possible even wherethere are huge gatherings such as a gospel rally. There are norms that govern such a meetingsuch as queuing, using ushers to direct people etc. Physical barriers such as guardrails or simpleropes are respected.When these norms fail to operate for any reason, a new set of norms emerge that govern the behaviour of the crowd. Emergent norm theory emphasizes that although episodes of collective behaviour may appear chaotic, they tend to follow certain norms.The norms are spontaneous but may also reflect both the general norms of society and the prevailing social context. E.g. people may loot from shops but not attack each other.Emergent Norm Theory states that :
A collective definition of appropriate and inappropriatebehaviour emerges during episodes of collective behaviour.
Its key proponents are sociologists Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian.
The key proponent was a French thinker named Gustav Le Bon. He proposed the theory at theturn of the 20
century when Europe was going through changes especially in labour relations.These changes threatened the upper class to which Le Bon belonged.The basic proposition of this theory is that
people undergo dramatic change when they become part of a crowd.
Rational people become capable of actions they would otherwise not be capableof in normal situations.Le Bon believed that people developed a collective mind
He cited 3 sources of collective behaviour
1.A sense of
gives one a sense of protection and crowd power. – Nobodyknows me, we are doing this as a group2.
moves through the crowd like a virus, from one person to the other.3.People become
as if hypnotized, accepting and obeying suggestion of fanatical leaders. The position of a leader in such a crowd therefore becomes veryimportant.
According to this theory, crowd situations do not produce unusual behaviour inpeople butinstead, it attracts certain types of people who are predisposed to that kind of behavior
The emphasis is on individual traits of the participants e.g when a street kid is caughtstealing, not all people join in the beating. According to this theory, only those predisposed to that kind of behavior will join in the ‘mob justice’.