Crowds and Riots

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Crowds are a ubiquitous feature of everyday life. People have long assembled collectively to observe, to celebrate, and to protest various happenings in their everyday lives, be they natural events, such as a solar eclipse, or the result of human contrivance, such as the introduction of machinery into the production process. The historical record is replete with examples of crowds functioning as important textual markers, helping to shape and define a particular event, as well as strategic precipitants and carriers of the events themselves. The storming of the Bastille and the sit-ins and marches associated with the civil rights movement are examples of crowds functioning as both important markers and carriers of some larger historical happening. Not all crowds function so significantly, of course. Most are mere sideshows to the flow of history. Nonetheless, the collective assemblages or gatherings called crowds are ongoing features of the social world and, as a consequence, have long been the object of theorizing and inquiry, ranging from the psychologistic renderings of Gustav LeBon (1895) and Sigmund Freud (1921) to the more sociological accounts of Neil Smelser (1963) and Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian (1987) to the highly systematic and empirically grounded observations of Clark McPhail and his associates (1983, 1991).

Crowds have traditionally been analyzed as a variant of the broader category of social phenomena called collective behavior. Broadly conceived, collective behavior refers to group problem solving behavior that encompasses crowds, mass phenomena, issue-specific publics, and social movements. More narrowly, collective behavior refers to "two or more persons engaged in one or more behaviors (e.g., orientation, locomotion, gesticulation, tactile manipulation, and/or vocalization) that can be judged common or convergent on one or more dimensions (e.g., direction, velocity tempo, and/or substantive content)"(McPhail and Wohlstein 1983, pp. 580–581). Implicit in both conceptions is a continuum on which collective behavior can vary in terms of the extent to which its participants are in close proximity or diffused in time and space. Instances of collective behavior in which individuals are in close physical proximity, such that they can monitor one another by being visible to, or within earshot of, one another, are constitutive of crowds. Examples include protest demonstrations, victory celebrations, riots, and the dispersal processes associated with flight from burning buildings. In contrast are forms of collective behavior that occur among individuals who are not physically proximate but who still share a common focus of attention and engage in some parallel or common behaviors without developing the debate characteristic of the public or the organization of social movements, and who are linked together by social networks, the media, or both. Examples of this form of collective behavior, referred to as diffuse collective behavior (Turner and Killian 1987) or the mass (Lofland 1981), include fads and crazes, deviant epidemics, mass hysteria, and collective blaming. Although crowds and diffuse collective behavior are not mutually exclusive phenomena, they are analytically distinct and tend to generate somewhat different literatures—thus, the focus on crowds in this selection.

Understanding crowds and the kindred collective phenomenon called "riots" requires consideration of five questions: (1) How do these forms of collective behavior differ from the crowd forms typically associated with everyday behavior, such as audiences and queues? (2) What are the distinctive features of crowds as collective behavior? (3) What are the conditions underlying the emergence of crowds? (4) What accounts for the coordination of crowd behavior? and (5) What are the correlates and/or predictors of individual participation?



There has been increasing recognition of the continuity between collective behavior and everyday behavior, yet the existence of collective behavior as an area of sociological analysis rests in part on the assumption of significant differences between collective behavior and everyday institutionalized behavior. In the case of crowds, those commonly associated with everyday life, such as at sports events and holiday parades, tend to be highly conventionalized in at least two or three ways. Such gatherings are recurrent affairs that are scheduled for a definite place at a definite time; they are calendarized both temporally and spatially. Second, associated behaviors and emotional states are typically routinized in the sense that they are normatively regularized and anticipated. And third, they tend to be sponsored and orchestrated by the state, a community, or a societal institution, as in the case of most holiday parades and electoral political rallies. Accordingly, they are typically socially approved affairs that function to reaffirm rather than challenge some institutional arrangement or the larger social order itself.

In contrast, crowds commonly associated with collective behavior, such as protest demonstrations, victory celebrations, and riots, usually challenge or disrupt the existing order. This is due in part to the fact that these crowds are neither temporally nor spatially routinized. Instead, as David Snow, Louis Zurcher, and Robert Peters (1981) have noted, they are more likely to be unscheduled and staged in spatial areas (streets, parks, malls) or physical structures (office buildings, theaters, lunch counters) that were designed for institutionalized, everyday behavior rather than contentious or celebratory crowds. Such crowd activities are also extrainstitutional, and thus unconventional, in the sense that they are frequently based on normative guidelines that are emergent and ephemeral rather than enduring (Turner and Killian 1987), on the appropriation and redefinition of existing networks or social relationships (Weller and Quarantelli 1973), or on both.

Crowd behavior has long been described as "extraordinary" in the sense that its occurrence indicates that something unusual is happening. Precisely what it is that gives rise to the sense that something "outside the ordinary" is occurring is rarely specified unambiguously, however. John Lofland (l981) suggests that it is increased levels of emotional arousal, but such arousal is not peculiar to crowd episodes. The conceptualization offered here suggests several possibilities: It is the appropriation and use of spatial areas, physical structures, or social networks and relations for purposes other than those for which they were intended or designed that indicates something extraordinary is happening.


Crowds have been portrayed historically and journalistically as if they are monolithic entities characterized by participant and behavioral homogeneity. Turner and Killian (1987, p. 26) called this image into question, referring to it as "the illusion of unanimity," but not until the turn toward more systematic empirical examination of crowds was it firmly established that crowd behaviors are typically quite varied and highly differentiated, and that crowd participants are generally quite heterogeneous in terms of orientation and behavior.

Variation in Crowd Behaviors and "Riots." Based on extensive field observation of crowds, Sam Wright (1978) differentiated between two broad categories of crowd behaviors: crowd activities and task activities. "Crowd activities" refer to the redundant behavior seemingly common to all incidents of crowd behavior, such as assemblage, milling, and divergence. In their overview of empirical research on behaviors within crowds, McPhail and Ronald Wohlstein (1983) include collective locomotion, collective orientation, collective gesticulation, and collective vocalization among the types of crowd behaviors "repeatedly observed across a variety of gatherings, demonstrations, and some riots" (p. 595).

Taking these observations together, one can identify the following "crowd activities" (Wright 1978) or "elementary forms" of crowd behavior (McPhail and Wohlstein 1983): assemblage/convergence; milling; collective orientation (e.g., common or convergent gaze, focus, or attention); collective locomotion (e.g., common or convergent movement or surges); collective gesticulation (e.g., common or convergent nonverbal signaling); collective vocalization (e.g., chanting, singing, booing, cheering); and divergence/dispersal. Given the recurrent and seemingly universal character of these basic crowd behaviors, it is clear that they do not distinguish between types of crowds, that is, between demonstrations, celebrations, and riots.

To get at the variation in types of crowds, attention must be turned to what Wright conceptualized as "task activities" (1978). These refer to joint activities that are particular to and necessary for the attainment of a specific goal or the resolution of a specific problem. It is these goal-directed and problem-oriented activities that constitute the primary object of attention and thus help give meaning to the larger collective episode. Examples of task activities include parading or mass marching, mass assembly with speechmaking, picketing, proselytizing, temporary occupation of premises, lynching, taunting and harassment, property destruction, looting, and sniping.

Several caveats should be kept in mind with respect to crowd task activities. First, any listing of task activities is unlikely to be exhaustive, because they vary historically and culturally. Charles Tilly's (1978) concept of "repertories of collective action" underscores this variation. Tilly has stressed that while there are innumerable ways in which people could pursue collective ends, alternatives are in fact limited by sociohistorical forces. His research suggests, for example, that the massed march, mass assembly, and temporary occupation of premises are all collective task activities specific to the twentieth century.

Second, crowd task activities are not mutually exclusive but are typically combined in an interactive fashion during the history of a crowd episode. The mass assembly, for example, is often preceded by the massed march, and property destruction and looting often occur together. Indeed, whether a crowd episode is constitutive of a protest demonstration, a celebration, or a riot depends, in part, on the particular configuration of task activities and, in part, on who or what is the object of protest, celebration, or violence. Both of these points can be illustrated with riots.

It is generally agreed that riots involve some level of collective violence against persons or property, but that not all incidents of collective violence are equally likely to be labeled riots. Collective violence against the state or its social control agents is more likely to be labeled riotous, for example, than violence perpetrated by the police against protesting demonstrators. Traditionally, what gets defined as a riot involves interpretive discretion, particularly by the state. But even when there is agreement that riots are constituted by some segment of a crowd or gathering engaging in violence against person(s) or property, distinctions are often made between types of riots, as evidenced by Morris Janowitz's (1979) distinction between "communal riots" and "commodity riots," Gary Marx's (1972) distinction between "protest riots" and "issueless riots," and the Walker Report's (1968) reference to "police riots." Communal riots involve religious, ethnic, and/or racial intergroup violence in which the members or property of one group are violently assaulted by members of another group, as occurred in the United States in Miami in 1980 (Porter and Dunn 1984) and in South Central Los Angeles in 1992 (Bergesen and Herman 1998). Commodity or property riots, in contrast, typically involve looting, arson, and vandalism against property, which has generally been posited as one of the defining features of the many urban riots that occurred across major U.S. cities in the 1960s. But it has been argued that many of these riots, such as those that occurred following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, were also protest riots, or at least had elements of protest associated with them (Fogelson 1971). Even though there has been some effort to identify the conditions that lead to the designation of elements of crowd behavior as protest (Turner 1969), it is clear that communal, commodity, and protest riots are overlapping rather than mutually exclusive crowd phenomena and that distinguishing among them therefore involves some interpretive discretion (Turner 1994). The same is true, as well, with the category of issueless riots, such as the sporting victory celebrations that sometimes take on the flavor of property riots among some of the celebrants. Even in the case of police riots, which involve a loss of discipline and control among the ranks, as occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, there is often debate as to whether the assaultive behavior of the police is justified. That there is some level of ambiguity and debate associated with categorizing and distinguishing any crowd episode as not only a riot, but as particular kind of riot, is not surprising considering that all crowd episodes share various task activities or elementary forms even when they differ in terms of their defining task activities.

Following from these observations is a final caveat: The task activities associated with any given crowd episode vary in the degree to which they are the focus of attention. Not all are equally attended to by spectators, social control agents, or the media. Consequently, task activities can be classified according to the amount of attention they receive. One that is the major focus of attention and thus provides the phenomenal basis for defining the episode constitutes "the main task activity," whereas those subordinate to the main task activity are "subordinate or side activities." The main task activity is on center stage and typically is the focus of media attention, as illustrated by the extensive media coverage of property vandalism and looting associated with commodity riots. In contrast, the remaining task activities are sideshows, occasioned by and often parasitic to the focal task activity. Examples of subordinate task activity in the case of property or communal riots, or both, include spectating or observing, informal, unofficial attempts at social control, and even the work of the media.

Variation in Participation Units. Just as empirical research on crowds has discerned considerable heterogeneity in behavior, so there is corresponding variation in terms of participants. Some are engaged in various task activities, some are observing, and still others are involved in the containment and control of the other participants and their interactions. Indeed, most of the individuals who make up a crowd fall into one of three categories of actors: task performers, spectators or bystanders, and social control agents. Task performers include the individuals performing both main and subordinate tasks. In the case of an antiwar march, for example, the main task performers would include the protesting marchers, with counterdemonstrators, peace marshals, and the press or media constituting the subordinate task performers.

Spectators or bystanders, who constitute the second set of actors relevant to most instances of crowd behavior, have been differentiated into proximal and distal groupings according to proximity to the collective encounter and the nature of their response. Proximal spectators, who are physically co-present and can thus monitor firsthand the activities of task performers, have generally been treated as relatively passive and nonessential elements of crowd behavior. However, research on a series of victory celebrations shows that some spectators do not merely respond passively to the main task performance and accept the activity as given, but can actively influence the character of the activity as well (Snow, Zurcher, and Peters 1981). Accordingly, proximal spectators can vary in terms of whether they are passive or animated and aggressive. "Distal spectators" refer to individuals who take note of episodes of crowd behavior even though they are not physically present during the episodes themselves. Also referred to as "bystander publics" (Turner and Killian 1987), they indirectly monitor an instance of crowd behavior and respond to it, either favorably or unfavorably, by registering their respective views with the media and community officials. Although distal spectators may not affect the course of a single episode of crowd behavior, they can clearly have an impact on the career and character of a series of interconnected crowd episodes.

Social control agents, consisting primarily of police officers and military personnel, constitute the final set of participants relevant to most instances of crowd behavior. Since they are the guardians of public order, their primary aim with respect to crowds is to maintain that order by controlling crowd behavior both spatially and temporally or by suppressing its occurrence. Given this aim, social control agents can clearly have a significant impact on the course and character of crowd behavior. This is evident in most protest demonstrations and victory celebrations, but it is particularly clear in the case of riots, which are often triggered by overzealous police activity and often involve considerable interpersonal violence perpetrated by the police. The urban riots of the 1960s in the United States illustrate both tendencies: police-citizen scuffles occasioned by traffic citation encounters or arrests sometimes functioned as a triggering event (Kerner 1968); and the vast majority of riot-associated deaths were attributed to social control agents (Bergesen 1980; Kerner 1968). This was not the case, however, with the riots in Miami in 1980 and in South Central Los Angeles in 1992, in which the clear majority of deaths were at the hands of civilians (McPhail 1994; Porter and Dunn 1984). Although these different sets of findings caution against premature generalization regarding the attribution of responsibility for riot-related deaths, they do not belie the important role of social control agents in affecting the course and character of crowd episodes (Della Porta and Reiter 1998).

Although there is no consensual taxonomy of crowd behaviors and interacting participation units, the foregoing observations indicate that behavioral and participant heterogeneity are characteristic features of most crowd episodes. In turn, the research on which these observations are based lays to rest the traditional image of crowds as monolithic entities composed of like-minded people engaged in undifferentiated behavior.


Under what conditions do individuals come together collectively to engage in crowd task activities constitutive of protest or celebration, and why do these occurrences sometimes turn violent or riotous? Three sets of interacting conditions are discernible in the literature: (1) conditions of conduciveness; (2) precipitating ambiguities or grievances; and (3) conditions for mobilization.

Conditions of Conduciveness. The concept of conduciveness directs attention to structural and cultural factors that make crowd behavior physically and socially possible (Smelser 1963). Conditions of conduciveness constitute the raw material for crowd behavior and include three sets of factors: ecological, technological, and social control. Ecological factors affect the arrangement and distribution of people in space so as to facilitate interaction and communication. One such factor found to be particularly conducive is the existence of large, spatially concentrated populations. The vast majority of campus protest demonstrations in the 1960s occurred on large universities, for example. Similarly, the urban riots of the 1960s typically occurred in densely populated residential areas, where there were large, easily mobilizable black populations. Seymour Spilerman's (1976) aggregate-level research on the occurrence of these riots found an almost linear relationship between the size of a city's black population and the likelihood and number of disorders experienced, thus suggesting that there was a threshold population size below which riots were unlikely. More recent analyses of the 1960 riots have found that "the propensity to riot was a function of far more than simply the number of Blacks available for rioting in a particular city" (Myers 1997, p. 108; Olzak, Shanahan, and McEneaney 1996), but such findings do not suggest that concentrated population density and the prospect of rioting are unrelated. Thus, these findings, in conjunction with the earlier observations, provide support for the hypothesis that, all other things being equal, the greater the population density, the greater the probability of crowd behavior.

The heightened prospect of interpersonal interaction and communication associated with population concentration can also be facilitated by the diffusion of communication technology, namely telephone, radio, television, and Internet access. But neither the diffusion of such technology nor population density guarantee the emergence of crowd behavior in the absence of a system of social control that allows for freedom of assembly and speech. It has been found repeatedly that incidence of public protest against the state diminishes considerably in political systems that prohibit and deal harshly with such crowd behavior, whereas the development of a more permissive attitude toward public protest and a corresponding relaxation of measures of social control is frequently conducive to the development of protest behavior. Two concrete examples of this political-opportunity principle include the proliferation of public protest throughout Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990 following the break-up of the Soviet Union, and prison riots, which research reveals are sparked in part by the erosion of prison security systems and the increased physical vulnerability of those systems (Useem and Kimball 1989).

Precipitating Events and Conditions. However conducive conditions might be for crowd behavior, it will not occur in the absence of some precipitating event or condition. Although the specific precipitants underlying the emergence of crowd behavior may be quite varied, most are variants of two generic conditions: (1) ambiguity; and (2) grievances against corporate entities, typically the state or some governmental, administrative unit, or against communal or status groups such as ethnic, racial, and religious groups.

Ambiguity is generated by the disruption or breakdown of everyday routines or expectancies, and has long been linked theoretically to the emergence of crowd behavior (Johnson and Feinberg 1990; Turner and Killian 1987). Evidence of its empirical linkage to the emergence of crowd behavior is abundant, as with the materialization of crowds of onlookers at the scene of accidents and fires; the celebrations that sometimes follow high-stakes, unanticipated athletic victories; the collective revelry sometimes associated with the disruption of interdependent networks of institutionalized roles, as in the case of power blackouts and police strikes; and prison riots that frequently follow on the heels of unanticipated change in administrative personnel, procedures, and control.

The existence of grievances against the state or some governmental, administrative unit, or against communal or status groups, can be equally facilitative of crowd behavior, particularly of the protest variety. Grievances against the state or other corporate actors are typically associated with the existence of economic and political inequities that are perceived as unjust or political decisions and policies that are seen as morally bankrupt or advantaging some interests to the exclusion of others. Examples of protest crowds triggered in part by such grievances include the hostile gatherings of hungry citizens and displaced workers in industrializing Europe; the striking crowds of workers associated with the labor movement; and the mass demonstrations (marching, rallying, picketing, vigiling) associated with the civil rights, student, antiwar, and women's movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Grievances against communal or status groups appear to occur most often in a context of competition and conflict between two or more ethnic or racial groups. A second generation of quantitative research on urban racial rioting in the United States has shown it to be associated with increasing intergroup competition sparked by patterns of hypersegregation of blacks (Olzak, Shanahan, and McEneaney 1996), heightened nonwhite unemployment (Myers 1997), and rapid ethnic succession (Bergesen and Herman 1998). Indeed, if there is a single structural-based source of grievance associated with intergroup rioting throughout much of modern history, it is probably intergroup competition triggered by ethnic/racial displacement and succession.

Crowd violence—"riotous" task activities such as property destruction, looting, fighting, and sniping—has been an occasional corollary of protest crowds, but it is not peculiar to such crowds. Moreover, the occurrence of crowd violence, whether in association with protest demonstrations or celebrations, is relatively infrequent in comparison to other crowd behaviors (Eisinger 1973; Gamson 1990; Lewis 1982). When it does occur, however, there are two discernible tendencies: interpersonal violence most often results from the dynamic interaction of protestors and police (Kritzer 1977; MacCannell 1973); and property violence, as in the case of riot looting, often tends to be more selective and semi-organized than random and chaotic (Berk and Aldrich 1972; Quarantelli and Dynes 1968; Tierney 1994).

Conditions for Mobilization. A precipitating condition coupled with a high degree of conduciveness is rarely sufficient to produce an instance of crowd behavior. In addition, people have to be assembled or brought into contact with one another, and attention must be focused on the accomplishment of some task. On some occasions in everyday life the condition of assemblage is already met, as in the case of the pedestrian crowd and conventional audience. More often than not, however, protest crowds, large-scale victory celebrations, and riots do not grow out of conventional gatherings but require the rapid convergence of people in time and space. McPhail and David Miller (1973) found this assembling process to be contingent on the receipt of assembling instructions; ready access, either by foot or by other transportation, to the scene of the action; schedule congruence; and relatively free or discretionary time. It can also be facilitated by lifestyle circumstances and social networks. Again, the ghetto riots of the 1960s are a case in point. They typically occurred on weekday evenings or weekends in the summer, times when people were at home, were more readily available to receive instructions, and had ample discretionary time (Kerner 1968).

The focusing of attention typically occurs through some "keynoting" or "framing" process whereby the interpretive gesture or utterance of one or more individuals provides a resonant account or stimulus for action. It can occur spontaneously, as when someone yells "Cops!" or "Fire!"; it can be an unintended consequence of media broadcasts; or it can be the product of prior planning, thus implying the operation of a social movement.


Examination of protest demonstrations, celebratory crowds, and riots reveals in each case that the behaviors in question are patterned and collective rather than random and individualistic. Identification of the sources of coordination has thus been one of the central tasks confronting students of crowd behavior.

Earlier theorists attributed the coordination either to the rapid spread of emotional states and behavior in a contagion-like manner due to the presumably heightened suggestibility of crowd members (LeBon [1895] 1960; Blumer l95l) or to the convergence of individuals who are predisposed to behave in a similar fashion because of common dispositions or background characteristics (Allport 1924; Dollard et al. 1939). Both views are empirically off the mark. They assume a uniformity of action that glosses the existence of various categories of actors, variation in their behaviors, ongoing interaction among them, and the role this interaction plays in determining the direction and character of crowd behavior. These oversights are primarily due to the perceptual trap of taking the behaviors of the most conspicuous element of the episode—the main task performers—as typifying all categories of actors, thus giving rise to the previously mentioned "illusion of unanimity" (Turner and Killian 1987).

A more modern variant of the convergence argument attributes coordination to a rational calculus in which individuals reach parallel assessments regarding the benefits of engaging in a particular task activity (Berk 1974; Granovetter 1978). Blending elements of this logic with strands of theorizing seemingly borrowed from LeBon and Freud, James Coleman (1990) argues that crowd behavior occurs when individuals make a unilateral transfer of control over their actions. Such accounts are no less troublesome than the earlier ones in that they remain highly individualistic and psychologistic, ignoring the extent to which crowd behavior is the product of collective decision making involving the "framing" and "reframing" of probable costs and benefits and the extent to which this collective decision making frequently has a history involving prior negotiation between various sets of crowd participants.

A sociologically more palatable view holds that crowd behavior is coordinated by definition of the situation that functions in normative fashion by encouraging behavior in accordance with the definition. The collective definition may be situationally emergent (Turner and Killian 1987) or preestablished by prior policing strategies or negotiation among the relevant sets of actors (Della Porta and Reiter 1998; Snow and Anderson 1985). When one or more sets of actors cease to adjust their behaviors to this normative understanding, violence is more likely, especially if the police seek to reestablish normative control, and the episode is likely to be labeled as riotous or mob-like.

Today it is generally conceded that most instances of crowd behavior are normatively regulated, but the dynamics underlying the emergence of such regulations are still not well understood empirically. Consequently, there is growing research interest in detailing the interactional dynamics underlying the process by which coordinating understandings emerge and change. Distinctive to this research is the view that social interaction among relevant sets of actors, rather than the background characteristics and cognitive states of individuals, holds the key to understanding the course and character of crowd behavior (Snow and Anderson 1985; Turner 1994; Waddington, Jones, and Critcher 1989).


Crowd phenomena associated with collective behavior have been distinguished from everyday, conventionalized crowds, the characteristic features of crowds have been elaborated, the major sets of conditions that facilitate the emergence or occurrence of crowds and riots have been identified, and the issue of behavioral coordination in crowd contexts has been explored. In addressing these orienting issues, only passing reference has been made to factors that make some individuals more likely than other individuals to participate in crowd episodes. For example, it is clear that the odds of participating in some crowd episodes are greater with increasing spatial proximity and access to those episodes, schedule congruence, and discretionary time (McPhail and Miller 1973). As well, individuals whose daily routines and expectancies have been rendered ambiguous or who share grievances that are linked to the occurrence of a crowd episode would appear to be more likely candidates for participation. But both of these sets of conditions typically hold for a far greater number of individuals than those who end up participating in a crowd episode in some capacity other than a social control agent or media representative. So what can be said about the personal and interpersonal correlates or predictors of participation?

There is no simple answer to this question or standard formula for predicting crowd participation. However, research on this question suggests at least four general, sensitizing observations, particularly with respect to participation in protest crowds and riots. The first general observation is that commonsensical psychological indicators of protest and riot participation, such as intense frustration or strong feelings of deprivation, have not been found to be valid or reliable predictors. For example, studies of individual riot participation, which have been numerous, have failed to find consistently significant empirical correlations between measures of frustration or deprivation and participation (McPhail 1994). This is not to suggest that riot or protest participants may not sometimes feel deeply frustrated or deprived as compared to others, but that these psychological states do not reliably explain their participation or typically differentiate them from nonparticipants. Such findings are consistent with the second general observation: There are a diversity of motivations for participation in crowd episodes, ranging from curiosity to exploitation of the situation for personal gain (e.g., fun, material goods) to sympathy with the issue for which the episode is a marker or carrier to embracement of and identification with the cause from either a self-interested or altruistic standpoint (Turner and Killian 1987). That neither a distinctive psychological state or deficit nor a dominant motive have been found to be associated with crowd and riot participation does not mean that psychological or personality factors are without relevance to this issue. To the contrary, one such factor that appears to be consistently associated with participation as a main task performer in protest crowds and riots is the existence of a sense of "personal efficacy"—the belief that one's participation will make a difference, the confidence that one's efforts will contribute to the larger cause (Snow and Oliver 1995). This finding, which constitutes the third general observation regarding participation correlates, makes good sense when considered in conjunction with the fourth general observation: Participants in crowd episodes—whether they are victory celebrations, protest events, or riots—seldom participate alone. Instead, rather than being isolates or loners, they are typically in the company of friends or acquaintances; they are, in other words, part of a social network. Additionally, recruitment into many crowd episodes occurs through the very same social networks (Snow and Oliver 1995). Thus, participation in crowd episodes, particularly planned ones such as protest events, tends to be embedded in social networks, which also function to nurture a greater sense of both personal and collective efficacy. When these factors are coupled with the previously mentioned conditions for assemblage, and either ambiguity or target-specific grievances, participation becomes more likely and perhaps even more predictable.


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David A. Snow

Ronnelle Paulsen

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Crowds and Riots

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