Quiz 16: Collective Behavior, Social Movements, and Social Change


Collective behavior refers to a set of behaviors spontaneously displayed by a large number of people for a particular period of time. An everyday example could be clapping together by a crowd to appreciate a performer. However, there are negative behaviors such as riots, are also included as collective behaviors. Collective behavior can occur to challenge unjust authorities, for liberation from obsolete laws, or renewal of cultural practices. Collective behaviors may exhibit most moral and brave initiatives for a noble cause. But, it can also involve destruction, vandalism, cruelty or least honorable human actions. A set of African-American adolescents who had high ambitions and demonstrated higher academic achievements, were victims of class and race discriminations. The racial references constrained their life chances and constantly tormented them psychologically and socially. Once during a college function, a petty incident triggered a quarrel, and all the African-Americans who were experiencing racial blocks, raised depreciating slogans and even postured for a physical assault. This is an example of a collective behavior towards racial inequality.

Symbolic interaction approach, which proposes creation of meaning in social interactions, is an appropriate framework to explain crowd behavior. Formation of group norms in a group or crowd can be considered as a process explained by emergent norm theory. The norms emerged in the crowd determines the social coherence of collective action. Also, the name of the theory, 'emergent norm theory' suggests the collective behavior occurs under the guidance of emerging norms. Hence, this theory has many features to explain the crowd behavior and is applicable in understanding, analyzing and predicting collective behavior.

Love Canal Environment movement happened due to the dumping of the pollutants in the neighborhoods of the community living near the Love canal. The chemical pollutants created multiple health problems to the residents of the locality which triggered a social movement against the chemical company and the regulating authorities. The social movement can be explained through theories of relative deprivation and resource mobilization. As per the deprivation theory, feelings of deprivation occur when desires of the community become genuine expectations and those desires are blocked by the power centers of the society. In the Love canal issue, the residents settled on the banks of the canal for its picturesque beauty and the facilities of the location. However, when a chemical company established factory and dumped polluting waste in the neighborhood, the residents desire to enjoy natural beauty and clean environment is blocked, and the social movement consequently followed. The resource mobilization theory can also be applied to analyze the Love Canal movement. The resource mobilization approach proposes that deprivation alone cannot manifest a social movement. Sufficient economic and political resources are also required for the movement to appear.