Theory of Collective Behavior

30 Oct

When people rush with sound and fury toward something they believe to be gratifying — viz., in manias, booms, bandwagons, “fashion races” and fads — we characterize their behavior as craze-like. Such behavior, at first glance, appears to contrast with the panic, which involves a headlong rush away from something.  We should not however, push the contrast between the craze and the panic too far.  Formally it is possible to analyze crazes in the same framework used for panic — conduciveness, strain, generalized beliefs, precipitating factors, and so on.  Substantially as well, many conditions that result in the craze are similar, if not identical to the conditions that result in the panic.  Further, the panic often accompanies the craze.

LaPier characterizes craze-like behavior as “fanatical behavior,” of which he identifies three types: the boom, or any fanatical behavior,” of which is based on the idea that there has been discovered “a new infallible way to material wealth”; the mass movement, or “a ‘spontaneous’ uprooting of a considerable proportion of the social population in a movement to a new promised land”; and the messianic movement, or “a collective flight from reality by following a new form of leadership which will bring health wealth or happiness.”

Most of our analysis, focuses on four spheres of society.
(1) The economic sphere, in which we study speculative boom in securities, land, and miscellaneous items, such as tulips, mulberry trees, etc. Among all types of crazes, the speculative boom has been the most studied.
(2) The political sphere, in which we study the bandwagon effect in the selection of a candidate for succession to high executive office.
(3) The expressive sphere, in which we shall discuss fashion and fad. Fashion and fad extend to all aspects of life –“clothes, architecture, vehicles, conversation . . . the arts and . . . popular philosophy.”  Common to all these aspects however, is the use of fads and items of fashion as expressive symbols of differential prestige in ranking systems. In this study we concentrate on the fashion cycle or yearly and seasonally changes especially in clothing styles and the diffusion of fads, especially among adolescents.
(4) The religious sphere, in which we study the phenomenon of revivalism. A revival, as we use the term, involves an enthusiastic movement–movements to form sects, to form ideal religious communities, to make a revolution, etc.
The term “revivalism” has been used to refer to religious enthusiasm in general (such as the crusades, or behavior on festive religious occasions) and to periodic general awakenings of religion (e.g. pietism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The large waves of revivalism in the United States–have clustered in distinct periods; McLoughlin restricts the really “great awakenings” to four–from 1725 to 1750, from 1795 to 1835, from 1875 to 1915 and from 1945 to perhaps 1970. These as well as the American, Irish and Welsh Revivals of 1857-59, the Welsh Revival of 1905-06 and other minor revivals constitute the empirical basis for our analysis of revivals.

The craze the panic and the hostile outburst.  To set forth the issues involves in analyzing the hostile outburst, let us consider two common sequences: craze followed by panic, and panic followed by hostility.

Panics produce many consequences other than hostility, and disasters may give rise to rationalization, magical thinking, regression, withdrawal, constructive activity, and social reform as well as scapegoating.  The question becomes: what unique conditions give rise to hostile outburst rather than some other response?

Neil J. Smelser,  Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe 1963 pp. 170-172, 222, 224)



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