Crowd action as intergroup process: Introducing the police perspective.

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Traditional crowd theory decontextualizes crowd incidents and explains behaviour entirely in terms of processes internal to the crowd itself. This ignores the fact that such incidents are characteristically intergroup encounters and draws attention away from the role of groups such as the police in the development of events. This paper begins to rectify this omission through an analysis of interviews with 26 Public Order trained police concerning crowds in general and the Poll Tax 'riof' of 31 March 1990 in particular. The analysis shows that, despite a perception of crowd composition as heterogeneous, officers perceive crowd dynamics as involving nrl anti-social minority?, seeking to exploit the mindlessness of ordinary people in the mass. Consequently, all crowds are seen as potentially dangerous and, in situations of actual conflict, all crowd members are seen as equally dangerous. In addition, police tactics for dealing with disorder make it very difficult to distinguish between individuals or subgroups in the crowd. This convergence of ideological and practical factors leads to rite police treating crowds in disorder as an homogeneous whole. It is argued that such action can often play an important role in escalating (if not initiating) collective conflict and is also a key component of social change in crowd contests. (C) 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-530
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1998




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