In the convergence theory, the influences of a crowd do not encourage or dictate the actions of a person. Instead, the behavior of the crowd is already a reflection of how a person thinks or feels. It becomes a reflection of the combined attitudes of the individuals who have joined the crowd. Once those attitudes converge, behavior becomes a consequence.
Convergence theory is therefore an outward expression of who a person happens to be on any ordinary day. There will always be individuals within a crowd that may feel emboldened to do something they normally wouldn’t do on their own, but that attitude would still be an expression of their attitudes and desires.
This theory was first proposed in the 1960s by Clark Kerr, who was the Professor of Economics at UC-Berkeley. Ideas about convergence theory have been added to the theory since by others, including how nations converge together based on like-minded ideas just like people do to form a crowd.
Why Do Some Crowds Inspire Behavioral Changes?
The primary critique of the convergence theory in sociology is that some crowds bring like-minded people together, but other crowds inspire people to do things that they normally wouldn’t do. Behavioral changes occur in some crowds, but not others, because at the core of the individual, there is a desire to have some level of acceptance.
This need to have acceptance can also be seen at the nation-state level.
Some crowds perform group functions because of the social connections which form within them. If a group of people decide that they hate squirrels, then this hate becomes the social connection which binds them together. They will feel accepted by one another and this will cause them to work together to perform actions that are likely detrimental to the squirrels.
Some crowds inspire individuals to act in a way they normally would not because the individual feels a need to “over-perform” to find acceptance. The group and the individual have similar thoughts or ideas, but the individual does not feel the same level of social acceptance that others experience. That creates the need to perform an “impact behavior” as evidence of the individual’s sincerity.
In this instance, the individual looking to make an impact might go into town and break the window of a squirrel-related business. They might burn signs or flags that depict squirrels. You might even find them with a megaphone chanting anti-squirrel slogans. It’s done because there is an underlying hate of squirrels, which is mixed with an underlying need to feel accepted.
Why Do Like-Minded People Band Together into Crowds?
In the United States, there are fewer “open” Congressional seats today than ever before in the history of our country. One political party is almost guaranteed to consistently win specific districts in every state. Part of this is due to district redrawing to gain a political advantage, but the elements of convergence theory are in play as well.
People in the US are moving into neighborhoods with others that have similar thoughts and beliefs. Countries form treaties with others that have similar thoughts and beliefs. That reduces the variety of opinions, creates a stronger foundation for acceptance, and creates consistency along multiple spectrums of thought.
Like-minded people band together into crowds because it is comfortable for them to do so. There is no need to defend the basis of an opinion when everyone in the crowd shares the same opinion. People feel like they can be “right” without needing to put in the research it takes to prove they are correct.
So, why do some crowds turn violent and other crowds stay peaceful? The convergence theory in sociology would say that certain crowds are violent because the people who formed the crowd wanted to promote violence in the first place. Even if an individual in the crowd goes “over the top” and commits a heinously violent act on their own, the urge to do so was because of a gathering of people who appreciated the violence.
The individual seeking group acceptance wouldn’t be violent if the crowd would reject them because of their violence.
When we can recognize the composition of a crowd, then we can predict what actions the crowd might take. That allows us to recognize if we want to be part of it or if we want to disassociate ourselves from it.
There will always be individuals who fall outside of this spectrum, as there will be countries who chart their own course. With convergence theory, however, there will always be a desire to remain comfortable.