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Collective Behavior, Social Movements, and Social Change



Sociologists study collective behavior, or social behavior that occurs in the context of a group or a crowd. Theories of how crowd behavior emerges include contagion theory and emergent norm theory. Crowds form for different purposes, including to meet specific goals, to express emotion, and for no particular purpose. Mass behavior is collective behavior that involves large groups of people who may or may not be in the same physical setting. Types of mass behavior include mass hysteria, moral panics, rumors, gossip, fads, and fashion. Sociologists also study social dilemmas, social movements, and social change. Social movements are organized behavior by social groups calling for change. They are frequently followed by countermovements, or reactions against these calls for change. Sociology uses different theories, including functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism, to understand and analyze social change.

At A Glance

  • Collective behavior is the behavior of a group or crowd of people who take action together toward a shared goal.
  • Contagion theory suggests that crowds can exert an effect on individuals, creating a mob mentality and encouraging irrational behavior.
  • Emergent norm theory posits that crowd and collective behavior involve the development of particular norms based on the experiences of individuals who make up the crowd.
  • Convergence theory considers how like-minded individuals come together to form crowds and how individuals shape crowd behavior.
  • Value-added theory considers how the combination of several social conditions can result in collective behavior, including social movements.
  • Crowds are temporary gatherings of individuals; types of crowds include casual, conventional, expressive, acting, and protest crowds.
  • Mass behavior occurs when large groups of people engage in similar behaviors without necessarily being in the same place.
  • Fads, trends, and fashions are types of mass behavior characterized by their extent, duration, and connection to a particular context.
  • Social dilemmas are situations that force individuals to choose between their own interests and the interests of their group, community, or society.
  • A social movement involves individuals who join together in some organized fashion in order to promote or resist particular social changes.
  • Mass society theory, relative deprivation theory, and resource mobilization theory are attempts to understand how social movements form and develop.
  • Social movements are frequently followed by countermovements, which arise in response to changes in the cultural, political, or economic landscape.
  • Social change is often the result of people fighting against some social inequality, but it can also occur as a result of other changes.
  • Theories of social change describe the social conditions that foster change and how different parts of society can change.