Collective Behavior: Meaning, Types, and Examples

Collective Behaviour can be defined as any action engaged in by a sizeable but loosely organised group of individuals that is not mandated or regulated by institutions, which is spontaneous and consequently more volatile and less predictable. The term was first used by Franklin Henry Giddings in 1908.

Types of Collective Behaviour


A crowd refers to a large number of people who come together in close spatial proximity for common short term or long term goals. Sociologist Herbert Blumer (1969) classified crowds into four types-

  1. Casual crowd which comes together by coincidence and does not interact with each other. For example, people on a train or people standing in a queue.
  2. Conventional crowd which gather for a certain purpose like a scheduled event. For example, people gathering for concerts, lectures, etc.
  3. Expressive crowd comes together to express the strong emotions for a certain issue. For example, people at weddings, funerals, political rallies, etc.
  4. Acting crowd engage in violent and destructive behaviour. For example, a mob i.e. an extremely incited crowd which is likely to commit or has already committed a violent action as in mob lynching, or panic that is an emotionally charged crowd which results in self-destructive behaviour such as a stampede.

Clark MacPhail and Ronald T. Wohlstein (1983) identified a fifth type of crowd.

  1. Protest crowd is a gathering of people who collectivise for political, social, economic change through collective actions such as sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, rallies, etc.


Riots are usually politically, communally or ethnically charged spontaneous outbursts of violence by a large number of people, generally one group against the other. India has witnessed several riots such as the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots, 1992-93 Babri Masjid riots, the 2002 Godhra riots, 2008 Mumbai riots, etc. Some of them have also been labelled pogroms which is an organised massacre of a certain ethnic or cultural group such as the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots.

Collective Obsessions

Collective Obsessions are characterized by a certain ridiculous and irrational rush to engage in a certain kind of behaviour which is incomprehensible by people not caught up in the obsession. The behaviour is abruptly stopped when the obsession ends and everyone who continues to engage in it is subjected to ridicule. Types of collective obsessions are

  1. Fads are explained by the ‘prestige’ in being the first to try a new idea or innovation. The same idea is recreated in many creative ways and the fad dies once all innovative ideas are exhausted. For example, of a fad for a new print in the market would find that print being used in all types of clothing, patterns, mattresses, etc. Fashions and Crazes also work similarly.
  2. Deviant Epidemics feature socially disapproved behaviour giving vent to deviant feelings following an initial incident. For example, in 1959 and 1960, Swastikas were painted on Jewish synagogues in a rise of anti-Semitic feelings after they were suppressed post World War II.


A mass is a relatively large number of people with the common interest even though they may not be nearby (Lofland 1993). For example, an online community of gamers that enjoy a common game.


Public is the most unorganised and loosely held group of people who share common ideas (as opposed to a mass where people share a common interest). For example, environmentalist.

Social Movement

A social movement is an organised and sustained effort to bring social, economic and political change.  Protest crowd might form a part of the social movement but involves another long term collective change such as online petitions, policy changes, etc. This field has come to dominate the study of collective behaviour in Sociology.


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