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Essay on Collective Behaviour and its Characteristics

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2. N.J. Smelser. Collective behaviour may be defined as “The relatively unorganised patterns of social interaction in human groups”.

An Illustrative Example for ‘Collective Behaviour’:

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As it is mentioned above, most social behaviour follows a regular, patterned and predictable course. Most of the people play their roles obliging the norms that are woven around the roles. This is true of a normal class-room situation in a college.

Students arrive more of less on time, they seat themselves in an orderly way, they listen to lectures, take notes, ask question at appropriate points, and finally they leave the classroom when the lecture is over and the lecturer goes out. There is a good idea of other things that a group of students would do in a room, but in practice everyone behaves mostly in a predictable fashion.

But suppose a fire suddenly breaks out in the class room. Confusion prevails everywhere. The normal pattern of behaviour gets immediately disrupted. The norms that prevailed a few moments before are suspended, and social behaviour becomes ‘unstructured’ and ‘unpredictable’ virtually, there are no norms to govern this unanticipated situation.

It is possible, though not inevitable, that a panic will result, if panic pervades, cooperative behaviour will also break down. There will be disor­derly rush to the exits, even though this Will actually reduce people’s chances of escape. Students may shout, cry, and move hither and thither in a panic.

It is also possible that there will be little panic, particularly if leaders emerge who take charge of the situation, supervise an orderly exit and attempt to put off the fire. But whether the student crowd becomes panicky or not, its behaviour is no longer guided by everyday norms. Sociologists use the term “collective behaviour” to refer to such a type of behaviour.

Characteristics of Collective Behaviour:

1. Collective behaviour normally centres around a phenomenon which is essentially temporary in nature. Further, it is entirely an unplanned one;

2. This type of behaviour is not regulated by any set of rules or procedures;

3. Since this behaviour is not bound by any defined norms, it becomes unpredictable also;

4. People who are attracted by an accident, riot, street fight, fire casualty or any such event gather at the spot without any prior planning, they do not even know one another. This anonymity encourages them to behave in an irresponsible manner,

5. The event that causes the people to gather in a spot is not an usual event. It is generally unusual. Communal riots, street fight, fire accidents, etc., are not the usual or routine events;

6. Rumours and misinformation normally run rampant during the course of collective behaviour. Nobody knows exactly the cause of such behaviour and everybody reacts in his own way contrib­uting to the confusion or the disorderliness that is already there in behaviour;

7. This kind of behaviour is triggered not only by rumours but also guided by beliefs, hopes, fears, enmity and hatreds.

8. Collective behaviour, may, in certain respects have a close relationship with the broad cultural pattern of the community. For example. Muslims may react more sharply to the issues when the religious matters are involved in them, than to the business or political matters. Similarly, Hindus may respond much quickly when the caste matters are involved, and so on.

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