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Discussion of Le Bon's View of Crowds

[i:26430bb9a3]Discuss Le Bon’s view that crowds are "intellectually inferior, driven by emotion and instinctual urges, and free from the restraints of civilised life and reason."[/i:26430bb9a3]

In October this year (1998) an accident occurred in Gothenburg, Sweden, were approximately 67 individuals died. About 200 people were gathered in a room when the place took fire. Having only one exit, people rushed at the same time towards the entrance. The entrance was blocked and people were falling on top of each other. A tragedy was a fact. What caused the people to rush to the exit? Did they become too emotional? Did they think that that was the most optimal choice? In this essay we are discussing Gustave Le Bon’s theory of crowd behaviour. First we will take a closer look at Le Bon’s view that crowds are irrational, emotional and unconscious and secondly we will discuss his theory in comparison to other theories or research that has been developed or done in the area.

According to Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) the crowd submerge the individuals rationality and (private) self-awareness. It is worth noting that a psychological crowd is not only a group of people together. For Le Bon, a psychological crowd is a group of people that "under certain given circumstances, and only under those circumstances, an agglomeration of men presents new characteristics very different from those of the individuals composing it" (Le Bon, p. 2, 1895). In the phase where the individuals loose their selves, the crowd reach the state that Le Bon called the collective mind. In this state of mind the individual feels, thinks and acts differently compared to if he were alone. The emotions, thoughts and acts spread like a disease in the crowd – the result being that everybody behaves in the same manner. This is what Le Bon called contagion. When the crowd is in the same state of mind, they replace private self-awareness with primitive instinctual urges. According to Le Bon the psychological crowd holds characteristics which are savagery, primitive and uncivilised (e.g. no self-awareness, unconscious). "Crowds are only powerful for destruction. Their rule is always tantamount to a barbaric phase" (Le Bon, p. xviii, 1895). This process of self-immolation that individuals go through to merge into the crowd is caused by several reasons. Firstly, group membership delivers anonymity, which gives the member ‘invincible power’, and less personal responsibility. Secondly, ideas and feelings are spread rapidly...

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