SOC. 4th Edition. Benokraitis. Cengage Learning, 2014. ISBN: 9781133592129
Chapter 16 Social Change: Collective Behavior, Social Movements, and Technology
Welcome to week seven of SOC 250, Introduction to Sociology. This week we will review collective behavior and social movements in America and distinguish between the varieties of collective behavior. Lastly, we identify the various stages of social movements and why they matter and describe how technology impacts social change.
Collective behavior is the spontaneous and unstructured behavior of a large number of people. Collective behavior encompasses a wide range of actions, including riots, fads, fashion, panic, rumors, and responses to disasters. Sociologists emphasize two important characteristics of collective behavior. First, it is an act rather than a state of mind. For example, you may feel panic when a hurricane threatens your town, but you don’t engage in collective behavior until you actually leave your home and head for a safer location. Second, collective behavior varies in its degree of spontaneity and structure.
Varieties of Collective Behavior
There are many types of collective behavior; some are more fleeting or harmful than others. These different types of collective behavior include rumors, gossip, and urban legends; panic and mass hysteria; fashions, fad, and crazes; disasters; publics, public opinion, and propaganda, crowds; mobs; and riots.
Rumors, Gossip, and Urban Legends: A rumor is unfounded information that people spread quickly. Through modern communication technology, a rumor can spread to millions of people over the Internet within seconds. Rumors can incite riots, panic, or widespread anxiety. There are two types of rumors: gossip and urban legends. Gossip is the act of spreading rumors, often negative, about other people’s personal lives. Another form of rumor is urban legends which are stories that supposedly happened somewhere.
Panic and Mass Hysteria: Panic is a collective flight, which is typically irrational, from a real or perceived danger. The danger seems so overwhelming that people desperately jam an escape route, jump from high buildings, leap from a sinking ship, or sell off their stock. Panic is similar to mass hysteria, an intense, fearful, and anxious reaction to a real or imagined threat by large numbers of people.
Fashions, Fads, and Crazes: Fashions, fads, and crazes are three more kinds of collective behavior that encompass broad geographical areas and involve large numbers of people. Of the three, fashion is the most structured and changes most slowly. A fashion is a standard of appearance that enjoys widespread but temporary acceptance within a society. A fad is a form of collective behavior that spreads rapidly and enthusiastically but lasts only a short time. Some fads are crazes, forms of collective behavior that become all-consuming passions for a short time.
Disasters: Whereas people choose to participate in fashion, fads, and crazes, a disaster is an unexpected event that causes widespread damage, destruction, distress, and loss. Some disasters are due to social causes, such as war, genocide, terrorist attacks, and civil strife. Some are due to technological causes, including oil spills, nuclear accidents, burst dams, building collapses, and mine explosions. Others are the result of natural causes, such as fires, floods, landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.
Publics, Public Opinion, and Propaganda: A public is a collection of people, not necessarily in direct contact with each other, who are interested in a particular issue. A public is not the same as the general public, which consists of everyone in a society. Some publics express themselves through public opinion, widespread attitudes on a particular issue. Public opinion can be swayed through propaganda, the presentation of information to influence people’s opinions or actions. Propaganda isn’t a type of collective behavior, but it affects collective behavior in several important ways.
Crowds: Much collective behavior is scattered geographically, but crowds are concentrated in a limited physical space. A crowd is a temporary gathering of people who share a common interest or participate in a particular event. Regardless of size---whether it’s a few dozen people or millions---crowds come together for a specific reason, such as a religious leader’s death, a concert, or a riot.
Mobs: A mob is a highly emotional and disorderly crowd that uses force or violence against a specific target. The target can be a person, a group, or a property. Mobs often arise in situations where people are demanding radical societal changes, like the removal of corrupt government officials. In other cases, especially when authority breaks down, people who are desperate may engage in mob behavior.
Riots: Compared with mobs, riots usually last longer. A riot is a violent crowd that directs its hostility at a wide and shifting range of targets. Unlike mobs, which usually have a specific target, rioters unpredictably attack whomever or whatever gets in their way during a rampage. Most riots arise out of longstanding anger, frustration, or dissatisfaction that may have smoldered for years or even decades. Some of the long-term tensions arise from discrimination, poverty, poor housing conditions, unemployment, economic deprivation, or other unaddressed grievances.
What is a Social Movement?
A social movement is a large and organized activity to promote or resist a particular social change. Examples of social movements include groups that focus on the rights of disabled, crime victims, and drunk driving, to name a few. Unlike other forms of collective behavior, social movements are organized, goal-oriented, deliberate, structured, ad can have a lasting impact on a society; And unlike many other forms of collective behavior (such as crowds, mobs, and riots), the people who make up a social movement are dispersed over time and space, ad usually have little face-to-face interaction. Sociologists generally classify social movements according to their goals (changing some aspect of society or resisting such a change) and the amount of change that they seek (limited or widespread). Some social movements may be perceived as more threatening than others because they challenge the existing social order. The five types of social movement are alternative, redemptive, reformative, resistance, and revolutionary.
Technology and Social Change
Technology, the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, is a vital aspect of human life, as technologies are woven inextricably into the fabric of our lives, from birth to death, at home, in school, and in work. In the next 20 years, technology is likely to change our lives more dramatically than ever before. Technological advances continue to affect our lives.
Computer Technology: One of the most practical aspects of computer technology is the development of robots, machines that are programmed to perform human-like functions. On the negative side, computer scientists worry that the technology is already being used for criminal activities such as identity theft and that robots will threaten even more jobs in the future.
Biotechnology: Biotechnology is a broad term that applies to all practical uses of living organisms. It covers anything from the use of microorganisms to ferment beer to genetic engineering, sophisticated techniques that can change the makeup of cells and move genes across species boundaries to produce new organisms. Another application of biotechnology is stem cell research. A stem cell is a building block of the human body. Opponents of stem cell research argue that all embryos deserve protection
Nanotechnology: Another promising recent technology is nanotechnology, the ability to build objects one atom or molecule at a time. The key characteristic of these objects is tiny size. Nanotechnology is based on structures measured in nanometers, a unit of measurement equal to 1 billionth of a meter, or 1/80,000th the width of the human hair. Nanotechnology will probably result in computer chips that are barely visible to the human eye.
Collective behavior is a very interesting subject as it is the spontaneous and unstructured behavior of a large number of people in a variety of situations. Our study of social movements portrays a large and organized activity to promote or resist a particular social change. We see that, unlike other forms of collective behavior, social movements are organized, goal-oriented, deliberate, structured, and can have a lasting impact on a society. And unlike many other forms of collective behavior (such as crowds, mobs, and riots), the people who make up a social movement are dispersed over time and space, and usually have little face-to-face interaction. Lastly, we see that technology continues to grow and proliferate at an ever-accelerating pace.
View the following video to review a simple explanation of various aspects of collective behavior. Then view a short video about social movements.
Aspects of Collective Behavior
SOC. 4th Edition. Benokraitis. Cengage Learning, 2014. ISBN: 9781133592129
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