Explain the place of anonymity in theories of crowd behaviour. Is it always associated with a ‘loss of self’ (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 13)?
This essay will start by explaining the concept of anonymity and how it is used in theories of crowd behaviour namely the contagion, deindividuation theory and social identity theory. Later the essay will focus on critical discussion comparing the above theories in terms of how they perceive anonymity and the loss of self. It will highlight the similarities between Le Bon’s theory and the deidividuation theory but will also point out some of their differences. The essay will also offer the account of the social identity theory which does not see the crowd behaviour as associated with the loss of self and explains it differently in terms of social identity. The essay will also present evidence to support these claims.
The crowd behaviour theories are concerned with how individuals experience being a part of a large group and how this in turn influences their feelings and behaviour. Crowd psychologists would argue that the experience of being a part of a large group necessarily means that a sense of anonymity is created. This anonymity then allows individuals in the crowd to feel somehow ‘safe’ in terms of what they are able to do or say without being directly responsible for it. However different theories view the concept of anonymity differently.
Le Bon argued that the concept of anonymity in the crowd is not beneficial at all. In fact he viewed the crowds as dangerous because individuals lose their rationality which is substituted by a ‘group mind’ and as such crowds are a threat to social hierarchy (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 5). According to Le Bon the experience of being in the crowd involves anonymity thus the individuals are not responsible for their actions and feel a part of the collective therefore are more likely to get influenced by ideas that are sweeping through the crowd - a concept Le Bon called the contagion. This anonymity then leads the individuals to behave in an aggressive and primitive way. The deindividuation theory outlook on anonymity is a bit different. Whilst deindividuation theory would agree with Le Bon on the fact that crowd behaviour generates anonymity and leads individuals to believe that they are not personally accountable for their actions in the crowd, the idea of a ‘group mind’ is dismissed. Instead Festinger, Pepitone and Newcomb argue that the sense of anonymity individuals experience in the crowds is a psychological shift in individual’s self perception which is clearly measurable (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 6.). From the perspective of the social identity theory crowd behaviour is not necessarily connected with anonymity and the loss of self. According to Tajfel and Turner the loss of self in the crowd behaviour is replaced by the social identity which is constrained by shared social norms amongst the group. Tajfel argues that we posses not just one individual identity but also a social one in terms that we belong to various social groups and share and accept their norms and values. In this light the social identity theory would argue that individuals do not lose their sense of self in the crowd rather they are more constrained by the shared group norms and as such cannot feel anonymous.
It could be argued that Le Bon’s concept of contagion and the deindividuation theory have some similarities. They both start with the assumption that the crowd behaviour involves anonymity which is associated with the loss of self to a certain degree. Both of these theories also agree on the fact that the crowd behaviour alters individual’s feelings and behaviour and makes them more impulsive and less accountable for their actions. However both of the theories use different concept to explain this behaviour. Whilst Le Bon explains the crowd behaviour with the concept of the ‘group mind’ which takes over a rational individual’s...
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