Thursday, November 21, 2002

Looking for the collective?

If the idea of Smart Mobs gets you all excited, or if you're just interested in collective or group behaviour, I highly recommend two books:

1.) Elias Canetti on Crowds and Power. I particularly enjoy Canetti's take on the mobile vulgus, the moveable or excitable crowd.

Canetti offers an explanation of the ways crowds form, develop, and dissolve, using taxonomies of collective (masse) movement as keys to the dynamics of sociality and sociability. And Canetti’s crowds are performed as collective multiplicities, actual and virtual, de-differentiated and always already present. For Canetti, the most important occurrence within the crowd is the discharge: “Before this the crowd does not actually exist; it is the discharge which creates it.” This moment is one of de-territorialisation, when we are freed from the burdens of distance; but during a discharge the crowd is also an illusion, in danger of dissipating and being re-territorialised and closed. The destructiveness of crowds is an attack on all boundaries, and de-territorialisation makes possible the crossing of boundaries. To this, Canetti adds the eruption: the sudden transition from a closed to open crowd, the crowd overflowing. So the performances that bind the crowd may also push the boundaries of the crowd until it disintegrates. “The crowd is open so long as its growth is not impeded; it is closed when its growth is limited… The stagnating crowd lives for its discharge… the process here starts not with equality but with density… In the rhythmic crowd… density and equality coincide from the beginning. Everything here depends on movement." The rhythmic, or throbbing crowd is characterised by a specific state of communal excitement: “the means of achieving this state was first of all the rhythm of their feet, repeating and multiplied,” not moving, but gathering intensity at one place and creating frenzy. In this sense, the stagnating (closed) crowd is always becoming the rhythmic (open) crowd.

2.) Michel Mafessoli's The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. The mobile vulgus can also recall the place or experience of (collective) recognition, of memory, and of Mafessoli's "ethic of aesthetics."

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