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Sociological Forum







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The mid‐twentieth century “collective behavior” school asserted that (1) collective behavior—the actions of crowds, movements, and other gatherings—had distinct dynamics; (2) such action was often “nonrational,” or not governed by cost‐benefit calculation; and (3) collective behavior could pose a threat to liberal democracy because of these features. While this tradition fell out of scholarly favor, the 2016 election has given us empirical reasons to revisit some elements of collective behavior approaches. We argue for three key orienting concerns, drawn from this tradition, to understand the current political era. First is a focus on authoritarianism and populism, particularly among those who feel disaffected and isolated from political institutions, pared of psychologistic determinism and geared more sensitively to their manifestations as a political style. Second is a focus on racialized resentment, strain, and perceptions of status decline, especially in how such feelings are activated when people are confronted with disruptions to their lives. Third is an analysis of “emergent norms” and the extent to which political actors produce normative understandings of contextually appropriate action that are distinct from traditional political behavior. We elaborate on these themes, apply them to examples from current politics, and suggest ways to incorporate them into contemporary sociological research.


Author Posting © Wiley, 2019. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Wiley for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Sociological Forum, Volume 34, Issue S1, December, 2019.

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