Definition and Examples of Mob

When a gathering of people—a crowd, an audience, or even a queue—becomes emotionally charged, the collective can become a mob. Mobs tend to form when some event, such as a crime, a catastrophe, or a controversial action, evokes the same kind of affect and action in a substantial number of people.

By definition, 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.

Whereas the term crowd Opens in new window is often seen as neutral, the term mob often has negative connotations. The word mob comes from the Latin term mobile vulgus, which means “excitable crowd” (Drury 2002).

The hallmark of the mob is its emotion (Lofland, 1981). Early accounts of mobs argued that individuals in mobs were so overwhelmed by their emotions that they could no longer control their actions. Unless the situation is diffused, the mob becomes volatile, unpredictable, and capable of violent action.

Mobs, as their name implies, are often highly mobile, with members moving together from one location to another, massing in a single location, or just milling about in unpatterned ways (Hughes, 2003).

Mobs have been historically associated with lawlessness, uncivilized behavior, and disorderliness. When many people think of mobs, terms such as hooliganism, lynch mob, unruly mob, and mob rule come to mind. As such, mobs have been associated with prejudice, racial bias, violence, and hatred.

Lynch mobs terrorized Black men in the southern United States until the early twentieth century. The first documented lynch mob occurred in the United States in 1882, but by 1950, lynch mobs had killed thousands. Virtually all the victims were Black, and many of the killings were savagely brutal (Mullen, 1986; Tolnay & Beck, 1996).

Hooligans are a specific type of violent sports fans—particularly of football (soccer)—in Europe. These mobs of fans, often intoxicated, mill about in the streets and pubs around the stadiums, fighting with fans who support the opposing team (Dunning, Murphy, & Williams, 1986; Oyserman & Saltz, 1993). The abuse of low-status group members by groups of bullies, which is sometimes termed mobbing, is a regular occurrence in both school and work settings (Schuster, 1996; Whitney & Smith, 1993).

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).

The heightened emotions that arise from groups of parade-goers in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival create a festive atmosphere that doesn’t include violence or other negative behaviors. Their aggressive counterparts, however, tend to be more common—or at least they receive more attention in the media (Milgram & Toch, 1969).