The power of the crowd by qyasfxS


									   The power of the crowd

                     John Drury
                 University of Sussex
                Crowd behaviour
Protests, riots, ‘mass panics’, football
  crowds, everyday crowds…

Everyone has an opinion


Or is it dominant (negative) ‘common-
   sense’ images and
In films, literature, clichés…
      Dominant (negative) ‘common-sense’
Crowds are characterized by:

• Heightened emotionality

• Reduced intelligence and critical judgement

• People ‘swept up’, ‘carried away’ or ‘infected’ by crowd

• Lack of self-control: Irrational, indiscriminate, mindless

• Madness – people do ‘crazy’ things, act ‘out of character’
An example of the crowd in literature: Shakespeare’s
  Julius Caesar:
• The mob were ‘whipped up’ by Mark Anthony’s
• They murdered Cinna the Poet simply because his
  name was the same as that of one of the
Early ‘scientific’ accounts of the
  crowd reproduce this ‘common
                                       Gustave Le Bon
•   Crowds are primitive
•   Crowds are over-emotional
•   Crowds are ‘instinctive’
•   Crowds are irrational
•   People in crowds lose themselves
    and lose control
         The power of the crowd
The argument:

• These common sense understandings and early scientific
  accounts are profoundly ideological – a distorted
  representation of reality that serves the interests of existing
  social relations


• The supposed 'madness' of the crowd is better understood
  as the power of collective identities that the crowd embodies
• The emotionality of the crowd is often the understandable
  joy associated with this crowd power
        The power of the crowd
1.   The origins of crowd science

2.   The food riots

3.   A social identity account

4.   The St Pauls riot

5.   Empowerment at the No M11 Link Road Campaign

6.   The madness versus the power of the crowd: insider
     and outsider perspectives
             ‘Crowd science’
• Arose in late 19th century Europe – particularly
• It was a response to ‘social problems’ of
  urbanization and unrest (Nye, 1975)
‘Social problems’ in late 19th c. France

– Industrialization meant factories, mills

– Workers came from the villages to live in the

– The city became populated by the ‘anonymous’

– Industrialization also meant workers’
  organization and strikes…
‘Social problems’ in late 19th c. France

 French revolutions 1789, 1830, 1848

The architecture of Paris is a monument to fear of
  the crowd (Van Ginneken, 1992).
• After 1848, the streets were redesigned.
• Narrow, easily barricaded streets were pulled
• Replaced by long, straight, open boulevards
  ‘Social problems’ in late 19th c. France

The Paris Commune, 1871
• Realisation of the European elites’ worst fears
• Communards were:
  –   armed
  –   socialist in ideas
  –   proletarian in composition
  –   ruthless against their enemies
  ‘Social problems’ in late 19th c. France

• ‘Problems’ of urbanization and unrest:
 ‘The crowd’ represented a threat to
   ‘civilization’ (i.e. the existing social order)
          The legal question
• One of the first questions that ‘crowd
  scientists’ addressed was legal:

  – Is the individual to be held legally responsible
    for what s/he does in the crowd?

  – or is s/he ‘swept up’ in the mob mentality and
   not fully responsible for her violent actions?
 The legal question
Scipio Sighele (1891)
• Crowds are largely comprised of people
  who are criminal by ‘nature’
• Hence these individuals could be held
  personally responsible for their illegal
  actions when part of crowds.

Gabriel Tarde (1901)
• By mere proximity people become ‘a
• Hence subject to uncritical imitation and
  irrational behaviour
Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931)
• The best remembered of all
the early ‘crowd scientists’

• His book ‘The Crowd’ (1895)
said to be the best selling social
psychology book of all time

• Said to have influenced Hitler
and Mussolini
               Gustave Le Bon
• ‘The crowd’: A populist work

• Consists in large part of synthesis and plagiarism

• It represents in systematic form the concerns of the
  wider establishment:
   – What do crowds do to the rational individual?
   – How can the power of crowds be opposed or
‘…by the mere fact that he forms part of an
  organized crowd, a man descends several rungs
  in the ladder of civilization. Isolated, he may be a
  cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian
  – that is, a creature acting by instinct. He
  possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the
  ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of
  primitive beings, whom he further tends to
  resemble by the facility with which he allows
  himself to be impressed by words and images …
  and to commit acts contrary to his most obvious
  interests and his best-known habits. An individual
  in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of
  sand, which the wind stirs up at will.’
(Le Bon, 1895, pp. 32-33)
        Le Bon’s (1895) model

Three key concepts

• Submergence

• Suggestibility

• Contagion
• Despite its influence and impact, evidence
  shows that Le Bon’s account is incorrect in
  both its assumptions and its predictions.

Later: why there is such a strong attachment amongst
  certain sections of society to such incorrect but
  pathologizing models of the crowd
        Case study 1: Food riots
• E.P. Thompson (1971) :
  Analysis of around 700
  English food riots (1750-

Immediate appearance:
• ‘Instinctual’ explosions,
  born out of desperation,
  expressing a ‘basic need’?
• Primitive, uncontrolled
        Case study 1: Food riots
1. Born out of sheer desperation?

•   Riots didn’t happen at times of greatest
•   Riots happened when millers or merchants
    were seen to have transgressed popular
    notions of how food should be distributed:
    – hoarding food when it should be sold
    – transporting food when it should be sold locally
    – profiteering when food should be sold cheaply
      Case study 1: Food riots
2. Primitive and uncontrolled behaviour?

• Seizure of food was typically not indiscriminate
• Food riots are more punishment than theft:
  – grain was seized
  – sold at a ‘popular’ price
  – the money and often the grain sacks were handed
    back to the merchants!
           Case study 1: Food riots
"mixed crowds of ordinary people gather angrily before
  the shops of a miller, a merchant or a baker. They
  complain about prices, seize the food on hand cart it
  off to the market square, sell it to all comers (so long
  as they belong to the community) at a price they
  declare to be just, turn over the cash to the owner of
  the grain or bread, and go home saying they have
  done justice, as the authorities themselves should
  have done justice"
Tilly, C., Tilly, L. & Tilly, R. (1975) The rebellious century: 1830 - 1930.
    London: Dent.
        Case study 1: Food riots
Crowd behaviour was restrained,
  selective, disciplined and patterned
  rather than being out of control.

• Why? How?

• Thompson (1971): all crowd action in
  18th c. is based on a legitimizing
  notion shared by crowd participants
  – a belief that they were all
  defending (traditional) rights
   – Legitimized direct action
Review evidence:
Problems for the notion of crowd
1. Violence?
• Most crowds are not violent

• Where there is violence, there are patterns, limits
  and selectivity in even in the most passionate of
  events: violence isn’t indiscriminate

• Different riots often have different patterns & targets
  based on their specific legitimizing notions:
      • Food riots targeted merchants
      • Urban rioters targeted police
 Review evidence:
 Problems for the notion of crowd
2. Context
• Crowd conflict needs to be understood in relation to its
   social context
    – proximal context (there are two groups)
    – distal context (history of relations)

• Violence is linked to incidents that are significant for
  understandings of group relationships

• Without reference to context, crowd violence appears to
  be a meaningless outburst
 A new approach: Social identity
We have personal identities and multiple social identities

• Crowd behaviour reflects not a loss of identity and hence
  rationality and control, but a shift from personal to
  social identity, and hence to social-identity based self-

• Shared social identity defines who joins in, who is
  influential, and what they do (norms)
   Case study 2: The St Pauls (Bristol) riot (1980)

• The first of the big urban riots of the 1980s.

• The event which was suggested to have set it off was a police
raid on a local café in the St Pauls district of Bristol

• Importance of the café to the local community

• There were several incidents of violence between police and
a crowd outside the café

• Police and their vehicle struck with hale of bricks
• Police were forced to flee.

• Some police were trapped in the cafe

• Police returned with reinforcements

• More and more people joined in attacking them

• Police vehicle set alight

• Running battles

• Eventually, the
police had to leave
the area entirely,
‘in disarray’.
             Second phase
• After the police had left

• The crowd took charge of traffic control,
  stopping suspected police cars entering
  the area.

• Certain property came under attack and
  there was some looting.
• Of 60 police, 22 injured, 27 minor injuries
• 21 police vehicles damaged
Shared social identity of participants:
‘Members of the St Pauls community’.

Defined in terms of:
• Locality
• ‘the ability to lead a free life’(vs poverty)
• the antagonistic relationship with police.

The pattern of (limits to) behaviour in the riot reflected this
  shared social identity.
 Three types of limits in the conflict that reflected
            the shared social identity

1. Geographical limits
  – The rioting remained within St Pauls. The
    crowd directed traffic flow
2. Who joined in?
  – Only those who shared the identity took part in the
    rioting and were influenced by other crowd
  Who was the most influential?
    Prototypes for the social category at that time: older
3. Targets of attack

Collective targets versus individual targets:
 what generalized?

  – People:
     • Only the police (and journalists).
     • Passers by moved safely through the crowd
     • Fire service were helped in phase 1
  3. Targets of attack (cont.)
– Property
   • banks, the benefits office, the rent office and the
     post office were attacked: ‘these were not just
     symbols but the very agents of their continued
   • Expensive shops owned by ‘outsiders’ and chains
     were attacked and looted
   • Homes and small locally owned shops were
     actively protected in phase 2 when looting took
   • Disapproval when someone threw a missile at a
   The St Pauls riot – some conclusions
• This analysis shows how social identity shapes and limits
  crowd behaviour
• It tells a different story than the crowd science notions of
  submergence, contagion and madness

• BUT it doesn’t address the psychological outcomes of this
  crowd event

Psychological outcomes:
• Participants felt pride, joy, confidence after the event,
  i.e. power and emotion

The final case study will use the latest thinking in crowd
  psychology to explain these outcomes as a
  transformation in social identity towards empowerment
                      Case study 3:
    Empowerment at the No M11 link road campaign (1993)

• This crowd wanted to prevent a motorway being built through their
‘village green’.

• In those days, the debate used to stop at the end of the public
enquiry. But this crowd continued the argument, through practice.

• The people who gathered to protest were initially quite fragmented
– they were ‘protesters’ on the one hand and ‘local residents’ on the

• Their shared relationship to the roadbuilding and their shared
exclusion from the site of that building, which was surrounded by
fences, brought them together and made them feel as one.

• It created an expectation of support for action against the road.

• This is about what happened next…
• They gathered for a symbolic tree-dressing ceremony on the green
that was to be dug up for the road.
 They found that the tree and the green were surrounded by the
construction site fences which had just been erected.

BUT they all felt as one.
So when one person climbed into the site, others followed as they
knew they would be backed up.
Some felt confident enough to start pushing down the
fences surrounding the site.
They expected others to join in.
And they did join in. ‘Everyone’ joined in.
• The police and
  security guards
  were overwhelmed
  and outnumbered,

• Soon all the fences
  were down.

• The site was no
  longer a building
  site but a free
  space, ‘common
         Psychological outcomes:
          Empowerment and joy

• Reactions: excitement and joy

• People talked about empowerment.
• They couldn’t stop smiling.
• They felt a greater confidence in the ability
of the campaign to act upon the world
rather than accept the world they were given.
Why was it empowering?

• It was an objectification of
collective aims to preserve the green
as common land

• They found themselves in a different
world – a world the crowd had created.

• And they were therefore now different
people: empowered people who shared
that joy with other direct activists.
                      Watts 1965

  But from the outside, to those who seek to protect or gain from
the status quo, it looks different: chaos, violence, disorder.

• They don’t recognize that there is a logic, which determines
the limits of crowd behaviour, which is based on participants’
shared social identity

• This is why they refer to the madness, the delusions, and
the irrational emotionality of the crowd.
                      Watts 1965

 The distorted perception comes from the social location of
the critical observer – outside the crowd.

But the fear it expresses is based on a political reality .
     Social change as ‘madness’
The ideological view of the crowd as a mad,
  dangerous and irrational entity arose in the
  nineteenth century to make sense of a situation in
  which the existing order was under threat.

Though most crowds are not revolutionary, crowds
  are nevertheless historically the form through which
  subordinate classes bring about social change...

It is therefore inevitable, perhaps, that those who
    seek to defend existing social relations will
    recognize in the crowd their potential nemesis.
      The power and emotion of the crowd:

 The very reason that people are committed to and
and so emotional in crowds is because of the ability
of crowds to extend our ability to enact (objectify)

• The psychological crowd ‘is precisely the
adaptive mechanism that frees human beings
from the restrictions of, and allows them to be
more than just, individual persons’ (Turner, 1987,
p. 67)

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