Conforming to Riots: Psychological Elements of the Crowd
From a psychological standpoint, crowds have been an elusive, enigmatic and frightening phenomenon; the nuances of the human mind in itself are elements which evoke worlds of study on their own, let alone the implications of attempting to analyze a collective of such minds. However, the study of crowd psychology is obligatory to enhance knowledge in many a field of study, including criminology and political science. Society’s growth and recession alike hinge on the numerous phenomena we can attribute to crowds, and hence the subject lends itself much importance to examine. This paper will go on to scrutinize what is known of crowd psychology, the phenomena involved with crowd psychology, and what aspects of the human mind may cause them. Because of its dramatic effects and political implications, the instance of rioting will also be examined in conjunction with social psychology, with especial focus on the 2011 London Riots due to their relevancy to the times.
II. Summary – History and the two theories of crowd psychology
The years were from 1789 to the very end of the eighteenth century, and France was submerged in political unrest. The working class was drenched in its collective anger from years of oppression and meant to take the country back; mercilessly, they dragged out, imprisoned and subsequently beheaded thousands the wealthy of France, along with any even mildly suspected sympathizers. It was from this event that philosophers and politicians alike came to see the power of the crowd and why it must be vital to understand how to acquiesce one; hence, crowd psychology emerged.
Today, two forms of crowd psychology theory have emerged: Classic theory and Modern theory. A major figure of Classic theory was Gustave Le Bon, a Frenchman and one of the first theorists on the field of crowd psychology. Le Bon asserted such of crowds:
“Under certain given circumstances, and only under those circumstances, an agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different from those of the individuals composing it. The sentiments and ideas of all the persons in the gathering take one and the same direction, and their conscious personality vanishes. A collective mind is formed, doubtless transitory, but presenting very clearly defined characteristics.” − The Crowd: A study of the popular mind
He went on to outline some elements of the ‘given circumstances’ that he attributed to crowds. The first was what he called ‘submergence’, an occurrence wherein individuals cease to assert their own identities and instead align to an unconscious and shared mentality, or where a sense of personal identity and uniqueness is ‘submerged’. Such an occurrence is assisted by the scaffold of having other people around them, granting the person with a feeling of anonymity and empowerment. The second element was ‘contagion’; Le Bon stated that within a crowd, feelings and action are literally...