Emergent Norm Theory
Crowds are never entirely like-minded, and contagion theory docs not explain why the crowd takes one action rather than another. Emergent norm theorists charge that contagion theory exaggerates the irrational and
purposeless components of crowd behavior. Some early riot studies showed rioters to be predominantly young, single, unsettled, and probably unstable. But studies. of the riots of . the 1960s found members to be relatively representative cross sections of the categories of people involved, and apparently motivated by genuine group grievances rather than by personal instabilities [Oberschall, 1968; Moinet et Orum, 1972, p. 76]. The burning and looting which accompanied the ghetto riots of the 1960s was not indiscriminate. Private homes,' public buildings, and
agencies serving the people of the area were generally spared, while those stores and of fices which were perceived as exploitative were looted and burned [Oberschall, 1968; Berk and Aldrich, 1972]. These riots were not
senseless' outbursts of infantile or irrational rage but violent protests against perceived wrongs and injustices. This has led some observers to romanticize' and idealize the rioters, picturing them as noble promoters of
a higher morality [Fogelson, 1%9;1. Skolnik, 1969; Rubenstein, 1970; Piven and Cloward, 1971] (provided, of course, the rioters were. not KKKers, segregationists, or others with whom the observers disagreed). In opposition to this "noble crusader" image is the fact that there are some "issueless riots," which arise not from ideology, grievance, or social protest
but from the desire for "fun and profit" [Marx, 1970]. The "blackout looting" in New York City in 1977, involving losses estimated at $60 million, was not ideological. The looting did not follow a protest demonstration or a "po- 'lce brutality" incident. There was no anger, little physical violence, no battles with police, no general urge to "burn, bum, burn." Looting began within minutes after a widespread power failure, as the inner-city poor saw a chance to get things they wanted for free. Although spontaneous and unplanned, the looting soon became organized, with a group breaking into a store and often keeping others out until they had their pick of the "goodies" Curving and Porter, 1979, chap. 3; Wilson and Cooper, 197!1]. Riots are not all alike. The -components of serious protest and "fun and profit" appear in different· proportions on different occasions. It seems that, starting with the perceptions and .grievances of the members, 'and fed the contagion process, a norm eventually emerges which- justifies and sets limits to the crowd behavior. A crowd in action can be a terrifying thing.
A factual account of everything said and done by an aggressive mob would be unprintable. To cite just one example, lynching victims were frequently burned alive or slowly strangled and sometimes emasculated as well as being subjected to other unprintable tortures.