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Collective Behavior is voluntary often spontaneous activity that is engaged in by a large number of people and typically violates dominant group norms and values. refers to the relatively spontaneous and unstructured social behavior of people who are responding to similar stimuli. It is collective because it usually takes place among a relatively large number of people. The phase responding to similar stimuli means that collective behavior is a reaction on the part of people to some person or event outside themselves. Episodes of collective behavior involve social interaction in which participants influence one anothers behavior.

The study of collective behavior poses some particular problems for sociology. In the first place, sociologists are accustomed to studying structured behavior. Second, how are researchers going to investigate a social phenomenon that occurs spontaneously? Despite these difficulties, sociologists have managed to conduct some interesting research and formulate some useful theories on types of collective behavior. This is partly because there is more structure and rationality to collective behavior than appears on the surface.

Despite its importance, collective behavior is difficult for sociologists to study for three main reasons: 1. Collective behavior is wide-ranging. Collective behavior involves a bewildering array of human reactions. The traits common to fads, rumors and mob behaviors. For example are far from obvious. 2. Collective behavior is complex. a rumor seems to come out of nowhere and circulates in countless different settings. For no apparent reason one new form of dress catches on while another does not. 3. Much collective behavior is transitory. Sociologists can readily study the family because it is a continuing element of social life. Fashions, rumors and riots however arise and dissipate quickly making them difficult to study.

It is important to distinguish collectivities from the already familiar concept of social groups. Here are three key differences: 1. Collective is based on limited social interaction. Group members interact frequently and directly. People in mobs or other localized collectivities interact very little. Most people taking part in dispersed collectivities like a fad do not interact at all. 2. Collective has no clear social boundaries. Group members share a sense of identity that is usually missing among people engaged in collective behavior. Localized crowds may have a common object of attention (such as someone on a ledge threatening to jump), but they show little sense of unity. Individuals involved in dispersed collectivities, such as the public that turns out to vote in an election, have almost no awareness of shared membership. Of course, some issues divide the public into well-defined factions, but often it is difficult to tell who falls within the ranks of say the environmentalists of feminist movements. 3. Collective generates weak and unconventional norms. Conventional cultural norms usually regulate the behavior of group members. Some collectivities, such as people traveling on an airplane, observe conventional norms but their interactions is usually limited to polite small talk respectful of the privacy of people sitting nearby. Unlike the organizational behavior found in corporations and voluntary associations (such as labor and environmental organizations), collective behavior lacks an official division of labor, hierarchy of authority, and established rules and procedures. Unlike institutional behavior (in education, religion or politics, for example) it lacks institutionalized norms to govern behavior. Collective behavior can take various forms including crowds, mobs, riots, panics, fads, fashions and public opinion. Today, some forms o9f collective behavior and social movements are directed toward public issues such as air pollution, water pollution and the exploitation of workers in global sweatshops by transitional corporations.

Conditions for Collective Behavior

Collective behavior occurs as a result of some common influence or stimulus that produces a response from collectivity. A collectivity is a relatively large number of people who mutually transcend, bypass, or subvert established institutional patterns and structures. Three major factors contribute to the like hood that collective behavior will occur: (1) structural factors that increase the chances of people responding in a particular way, (2) timing and (3) a breakdown in social control mechanism and corresponding feeling of normlessness. However, Neil Smelser also has suggested other specific conditions that must be present for collective behavior to occur: 1. Structural conduciveness. Given the setting or structure of a specific group or society, a particular type of collective behavior such as panic, riot, craze, or lynching could happen; although the behavior would not necessarily be encouraged it would still be possible because of historical or other structural reasons. 2. Structural strain. Conditions in society place strain on people; a general feeling of deprivation or conflict is produced by such things as economic failure, hostility among races, social classes, or religion, or sudden changes in the existing order. 3. Generalized belief. A set of feelings, beliefs or rationalizations must be present to explain the cause of the strain, to create a common culture prepared for action. Precipitating factors. A specific event provides a concrete reason for taking action. 4. Mobilization for action. The participants become organized and act. 5. Social control. Factors that occur after the event has started can prevent or inhibit the effect of the previous conditions from continuing and can change its course.