Continuing Validity of the Collective Behavior Approach



This study evaluates the collective behavior (CB) approach that dominated studies of social movements from the 1920s to the 1970s. Its roots lie in five scholarly traditions: Durkheim (collective consciousness), Mill (a sum of individual cost-benefit calculations), Weber (charisma and bureaucracy), Simmel (interaction of individuals), and European mass psychology.

CB studies began in Chicago University in the 1920s by Robert E. Park. His pupil Herbert Blumer made the basic classifications in the field. In the interactionist school, Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian stressed the emerging norms that modify CB, and Kurt and Gladys Engel Lang focused on collective processes. In the structure-functionalistic school, Talcott Parsons stressed the impact of cultural trends in movement emergence, and Neil Smelser developed a value-added theory of how social movements form.

CB tradition was attacked in the 1960s when its theories did not fit into the student movement and there was a paradigm shift to resource mobilization and Marxist approaches. However, with the rise of constructivism, the ideas of CB have been reinvented in new social movement studies.