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Abstract

This article responds to a recent suggestion by Borch (2006) that sociologists might profitably reconsider the ‘group mind’ explanation, propagated by nineteenth-century French academics like Tarde and Le Bon, which emphasises the inherent suggestibility, amorality, and destructiveness of crowds as mechanisms of accounting for collective violence. In alluding to the recent French riots of October–November 2005 as an illustrative example, the article rejects the group mind approach (along with a host of other lay explanations appearing in the wake of the disorders) in favour of a multivariate analysis, loosely based on the Flashpoints Model of Public Disorder. The purpose of this analysis is to demonstrate how even the most intensely destructive, spontaneous and emotional acts of collective violence are typically underpinned by a guiding and restraining rationality.