Part 1 Essay
Are the concepts of contagion and deindividuation adequate explanations of rioting and looting behaviour? Discuss this in relation to other explanations of collective behaviour in Book 1, Chapter 1 (Dixon and Mahendran). This essay will explore whether the concepts of contagion and deindividuation theories are relevant to explaining rioting and looting behaviour, using a critical view point. Discussions on explanations of collective behaviour and the interrogative theme power relations will be incorporated into the argument. Whilst at the same time linking rioting, looting and collective behaviour through the examination of evidence and examples to support the argument. Before moving on to close with a summarisation of the findings and evaluating a conclusion.
Contagion was developed by Le Bon (1895) where he studied how an individual’s behaviour can change when in a crowd. He argued that once people were in crowds they would retreat to a more primitive state of being, where the individual losses all sense of reason and rationality to become associated with a ‘group mind’. He also argued that when individuals were in a crowd ‘submergence’, a term he used, that this was an association with a process of ‘contagion’, where ideas and emotions take over an individual rapidly through a crowd. Deindividuation as defined by Festinger et al., (1952) is a process where the individual immerses themselves into a group to which they no longer see themselves as separate and individuals; this causes a psychological shift towards anonymity with that group, where they feel that they cannot be personally identified and held accountable for their actions. Anonymity is a key factor in regards to contagion and deindividuation theories as it slots in perfectly. It is defined as an individual that is immersed in group/crowd behaviour, no longer is seen as an individual, and therefore is cloaked in anonymity as part of the collective. The personal responsibility of one’s own behaviour has been reduced. As it’s a position that the individual has taken in the crowd otherwise known as ‘loss of self’.
Le Bon argued that ‘the experience of being but one among many’ (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 5) where members felt that they were anonymous and become lost in the group meaning that they become less accountable for their actions. Using examples from the 2011 London riots, where a peaceful demonstration for Mark Duggan ‘was met by riot police’ (Dixon and Mahendran, 2012, p. 17) and in an attempt to disperse the crowd police were filmed hitting a young female demonstrator. The actions from the police notably caused the anti-police riots; they ignited a reason for criminals to jump on the wagon and react. The police’s behaviour was seen to be aggressive, forceful and unacceptable. By them acting in a different way could have possibly prevented the end result of the riots. Stott argues that their social identity model where ‘expression of identity in crowds’ (Cliff Stott assessment of 2011 riots) allowing free positive expression of opinion and views without the police viewing it as a negative expression where they control the crowd because they see the people as dangerous and questioning the legitimate expression of identity then turns ‘the sense of illegitimacy among participants that’s fundamental to the emergence of a riot happens’ (Cliff Stott assessment of 2011 riots). Le Bon’s theory explains how the looting behaviour can sometimes accompany crowd riots depending on the type of crowd. A number of studies conducted on crowds that supported some of Le Bon’s argument notably, Freud (1922) and Reicher (1996), although some psychologists believed the actions of individuals depended on the type of crowds being observed. Festinger et al.’s theory would explain the looting behavior that sometimes accompanies crowds from the respect of individuals becoming anonymous in a crowd. As a result of the bullying, harsh and violent act by...
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