Essay on Collective Behaviour and Social Movements

Women’s liberation movement, the Ayodhya movement, Naxalite movement, “Save the environment” movement, Trade union movement, student movement, tribal movement, etc.

According to some sociologists social movements also constitute one form of collective behaviour but according to some others, they represent a separate, though related phenomenon.

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Sometimes it becomes difficult to point out the differences between the two in precise terms, some, such as the “hippie” countercultures of sixties, seem to fit the definition of collective behaviour.

Such movements are much ‘unstructured’ and not organised. On the other hand, we have move­ments, such as “human rights” movement, “Right to life” movements the Ayodhya movement, etc. which are highly organised. Some movements such as those of environmental preservation seem fall between these two extremes.

A sociologist is interested in the study of both collective behaviour and social movements not just because such a study is highly fascinating. Their significance lies in the fact they constitute an important element in social change. “They can serve as the source of new values and norms and even of sweeping changes in human history” (Robertson).

But it must be admitted that we have to go a long way to understand their real nature and their implications on our social life. The study of social movements and collective behaviour is still in its infancy.

Difficulties Involved in the Study of Collective Behaviour:

Though the study of collective behaviour assumes great importance, it involves some practical difficulties.

1. The first problem is that collective behaviour is unstructured. Hence it is highly challenging to find underlying regularities, or to make generalisations on the basis of one or the other study.

2. The second problem is that collective behaviour often occurs as a spontaneous outburst. It cannot be artificially created or reproduced for the convenience of the sociologist. He is obliged to make a study of them as and when they occur, whether it is a road accident, fire accident, bomb blast, ship wreckage, plane crash, or anything. Hence, firsthand studies of collective behaviour are there­fore, difficult to conduct. He may have to depend on so many untrained observers or on-goers who happened to be there at the time of the occurrence of the-event.

3. The third problem of the study is that the concept of” Collective behaviour” has a very wide range of meaning. It includes in itself — fashions, feuds, riots, mass hysteria, mob, and many such things between which we find lot of variance. Each such a thing or component will have to be understood in its own way. In spite of these limitations, however, sociologists have made some inroads into the study of this complex phenomenon of collective behaviour.

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