What are collectives?

A Collective refers to a large assembly of people who have similar reasons for being at a particular place but are otherwise unaffiliated. It is an umbrella term that describes several types of groups made up of people who are in the same place, exhibit similar characteristics, and often have the same focus or goals.

  • A collective may consist of people who are physically in contact with each other, such as those attending a tennis tournament.
  • A collective may also consist of people who are scattered across a country or around the world.
  • People who belong to fan clubs, listen to the latest music, or wear trendy clothes fit into this definition as well.
  • The factor that determines membership in a collective is that the individual has a shared goal or behavior with others.

Although collectives share many of the same characteristics of groups, they are generally more loosely organized than groups. There is often no clear leader or structure through which directions are given, decisions are made, or communication occurs. As a result, collectives are less cohesive and tend to work in different ways from other groups.

Types of Collectives

Collectives can be differentiated into nine types: crowds, mobs, riots, panics, mass hysteria and rumors, audiences, queues, social movements, and trends (Forsyth 2006). We’ll spend the remainder of this entry, addressing each.


A crowd is a gathering of people who share a purpose or intent and influence one another.

Crowds Opens in new window are a common occurrence in modern life. Most sporting events, concerts, and other performances result in the gathering of crowds. Blumer (1951) differentiated four types of crowds:

  1. Casual crowd
    A loose collection of people with no real interaction (e.g, people at the mall)
  2. Conventional crowd
    A deliberately planned meeting (e.g., community meeting organized by political leaders)
  3. Expressive crowd
    A crowd at an emotionally charged event (e.g., a political rally or soccer game in Europe or Latin America)
  4. Acting crowd
    A crowd intent on accomplishing something (e.g., fans rushing a stage during or after a concert)

When crowd behavior is directed toward a specific, violent end, the result is a mob. Mobs tend to be highly emotional. Examples of mob violence include the lynchings of the Southern U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries. Violent crowd behavior without a specific goal is a riot. Because riots do not have a specific end, it is assumed that their intention is to express general dissatisfaction.


Mob is a disorderly, emotionally charged crowd whose members engage in, or are ready to engage in, violence against a specific target—a person, a category of people, or physical property.

A crowd Opens in new window can quickly turn into a mob Opens in new window. A mob is different from a crowd in that its members experience the same emotion at the same time. The word mob comes from the Latin term “mobile vulgus,” which means “excitable crowd”.

Mobs, even though they stimulate their member’s emotions, are not necessarily irrational, nor are they necessarily violent. They are not always violent, unlawful, or disorderly, however. In many cities, large street celebrations break out after professional sports teams win major titles. People who dance and drink together at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, share the positive experience of having fun—joy, jubilation, and exhilaration—in a carnival-like atmosphere (Vider, 2004).


Riots are related to mobs but tend to include more participants. They are unruly, unlawful, and often violent. Rioters may exhibit seemingly aimless behaviors, are spontaneously violent, may assault people or property, and are purposefully destructive (Russell 2004).

Sometimes riots break out because of a perceived lack of law enforcement.

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Rioters are tempted by the chance to loot and steal with little or no chance of getting caught. In recreation, leisure, and experiential education settings, particularly those related to sport, riots have become increasingly common. The riot at Woodstock 1999, soccer hooliganism in Europe, and the 1994 riots in Vancouver are examples of this type of crowd in recreation, leisure, and experiential education.


Panic is a form of crowd behavior that occurs when a large number of people react to a real or perceived threat with strong emotions and self-destructive behavior. The most common type of panic occurs when people seek to escape from a perceived danger, fearing that few (if any) of them will be able to get away from that danger.

Panics Opens in new window can also arise in response to events that people believe are beyond their control—such as major disruption in the economy. Although panics are relatively rare, they receive massive media coverage because they provoke strong feelings of fear in readers and viewers, and the number of casualties may be large.

Rumors & Mass Hysteria

Rumor is an unsubstantiated report on an issue or subject. Rumors feed the emotion of crowds and mobs. They are often the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak, and they lead to aggressive behaviors and violent actions. The rumor circulating about the final act at Woodstock 1999 certainly contribured to the rioting there.

In collectives, rumors circulate and are often lead to mass hysteria. Mass hysteria is a form of dispersed collective behavior that occurs when a large number of people react with strong emotions and self-destructive behavior to a real or perceived threat. Although the term has been widely used, many social scientists believe that this behavior is best described as a panic with a dispersed audience.

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