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From Mask Wearing to the Run on Petrol: The Consequences of Crowds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/10/2021 - 7:30pm in

From Mask Wearing to the Run on PetrolThe Consequences of Crowds

Crowd behaviour helped public health initiatives in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, but social proofing also means that people are easily influenced to reject safety measures, writes Clara Hickman


All the zombie movies were wrong. 

Disaster epics warned us that, come a crisis as big as the Coronavirus, the population would retreat into individualistic greed and descend into anarchic violence. The reality turned out to be quite different.

Even before Boris Johnson announced a lockdown on 23 March 2020, the majority of people followed ‘crowd behaviour’ – copying their neighbours, friends and colleagues by maintaining social distance, washing their hands, and following rules to keep the wider community safe. 

Psychologist and Social Psychology Professor at Sussex University, John Drury, calls the way most people responded to the pandemic as the “we’re all in this together” mentality. This is when people mimic the behaviour of the crowd and come together with the intent of battling through a crisis.

From the very beginning, the vast majority of people ‘followed the crowd’ and obeyed Coronavirus restrictions. A survey by the leading statistics database, Statista, reported high numbers of people obeying Government guidelines during the first lockdown in spring 2020. Of the respondents, 79% of British adults said that they were following the rules, while 80% said that most people they knew were also obeying them.

This was, in part, people responding as a crowd. When the vast majority of our community decides on a course of action, it puts pressure on an individual to follow suit. 

Crowd behaviour in a crisis fosters a sense of belonging, collective endeavour and, as Drury says, a belief that we are all in this together. 

Professor Benjamin Rosenberg, a social health psychologist at Dominican University California, believes that one of the reasons crowd behaviour is so powerful is that it gives people “a sense of identity, safety and security”. This is especially potent during a crisis such as the Coronavirus, when people often feel out of control due to its unprecedented nature. 

Prof Rosenberg told Byline Times that one of the biggest factors that cause people to follow the majority is normative social influence. People follow the crowd because they “fear that if they don’t, their group will disapprove or shun them. People are afraid of their group ostracising them if they don’t follow along.” 

But, while in the early stages of the pandemic this led to a conformity with the guidelines, the more the crowd breaks away from the rules, the harder it is to sustain them. This has been the case with mask-wearing. 

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To Mask or Not To Mask

The mask mandate in the UK ended in July 2021, meaning that wearing a face covering in public settings shifted from being a public health directive to a matter of personal choice. Some organisations such as Transport for London, theatres and individual shops still require mask-wearing. 

Since then, the number of people wearing masks has visibly dropped. 

Before restrictions were lifted, YouGov reported that 58% of the 18-24 year olds it surveyed were wearing masks. This has now dropped to 46%, even though, according to YouGov, people of this age group are more likely to be in crowded and busy places. 

This is potentially due to crowd behaviour – as people see their peers give up on wearing masks, they are more likely to do the same. 

Charlotte Wilson, a student from Northampton, told Byline Times how she “used to wear a mask all the time even at my Saturday job but now I don’t because I don’t want to be the only one”.

In Staffordshire, Stephanie Bates has had a similar experience. She says that if she “was the only one in my group wearing one, it would be awkward if someone asked me why. I’d feel like there would be no-one to back me up”. 

Whereas a year ago, crowd influence meant that more people wearing masks, now the inverse is true.

This is in spite of the fact that the scientific evidence states that COVID-19 spreads by respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, thus wearing a mask is a simple and effective barrier that protects those around us – particularly the most vulnerable. That people are rejecting masks despite a strong case for continuing to use them suggests that the power of the crowd exerts more influence over our behaviour than the power of scientific fact. 

Amplifying the power of the crowd is social media. Not only are we witnessing other people’s behaviour on the streets, in the shops or on public transport, we are responding to the online crowd too. 

According to Prof Rosenberg, the impact of the social media crowd on COVID-19 compliance risks undermining trust in public health interventions such as mask-wearing – even in those who currently wear masks. 

“Down the line, through conversations with others, peoples’ opinions and behaviour towards masking might change”, he says. If it “shifted how they think about and value masking, that reflection could cause some change in their behaviour”.

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Fuel Crisis and Crowds 

Social media crowds have also played a role in the response to the recent fuel shortages, which led to long queues and even fights breaking out on petrol forecourts. 

Videos and photos of queues and panic on social media triggered a crowd behaviour response, as people followed the crowd to the empty fuel pumps and exacerbated the shortages through panic buying.

Adam Doyle, a retail assistant from Wolverhampton, told Byline Times how “those videos were everywhere you look. You look at your newsfeed and you can’t help watching them.”

The behaviour of the thousands who have rushed out to petrol stations since the fuel crisis was broadcast on social media was an “innate response”, according to author, speaker and consumer behaviour consultant Philip Graves. He argues that people see others doing something and believe that they should be doing it too. This is a form of leading by example, with people believing that a course of action is the correct thing “provided it’s not immediately anti-social or at odds with our beliefs”.

Graves argues that a specific shortage focuses people’s attention which can then lead to a panicked reaction. “Their attention is directed at that product,” he says. “Suddenly, everyone is thinking about how much fuel they have.” This in turn can lead to trigger aversion, or when people “start to think about what they might miss out on if they run out of fuel”.

This was the case for Camilla Hayes, a trainee hairdresser from Reading, who told Byline Times: “I was worried about how I’d get to work. I thought if I didn’t go at once [to get petrol] everyone else would have taken it.”

Seeing how other people act has a huge influence on how an individual reacts to a crisis. “The social proof of what other people are doing is much more powerful than any corresponding messages about whether that behaviour is necessary or desirable,” Graves adds.




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The post From Mask Wearing to the Run on Petrol: The Consequences of Crowds appeared first on Byline Times.

Book Review: Expanded Visions: A New Anthropology of the Moving Image by Arnd Schneider

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/07/2021 - 8:28pm in

In Expanded Visions: A New Anthropology of the Moving ImageArnd Schneider explores the generative potential of experimental film as and through anthropology. Highlighting the significance of meaning-making, affect and formal experimentation in the social sciences, the book is a welcome and eloquent contribution to research on the intersection of anthropology and the arts, writes Sander Hölsgens.

Expanded Visions: A New Anthropology of the Moving Image. Arnd Schneider. Routledge. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Expanded Visions: A New Anthropology of the Moving Image sets out to explore the generative potential of experimental film as and through anthropology. How are moving images productive for anthropological inquiries? What kinds of knowledge do anthropologists gain by experimenting with the medium of film? And what kind of critical possibilities do digital technologies afford? Expanded Visions is a new chapter in Arnd Schneider’s decades-long commitment to scrutinising the intersection of anthropology and the visual arts – gesturing towards the radical possibilities of experimentation in audiovisual research. It is an astute plea for multimodal and artistic inquiry.

Its opening chapter seeks to answer the question of ‘what the moving image can do with anthropology, but also what anthropology can do with it’ (Chapter One). It’s a reflection on contact zones, on meeting points, on consilience, on finding a third space of practice – located ‘between art and anthropology, with moving image practices occupying a central role’. It’s a critical and well-developed effort to highlight the significance of meaning-making, affect and formal experimentation within the social sciences.

Rather than working towards a clear set of hypotheses and arguments, Schneider is committed to unveiling the rigorous promise and potential of this third space through metaphors, anecdotes, poetic ruminations and vignettes. So, to answer the question of how the ideas and practices of experimental film can be made productive within the context of anthropology, he elusively writes: ‘The question is perhaps […]: how can ruins be moved? How can rubble be reconstructed or reassembled?’ As filmmakers and visual anthropologists are dealing with different kinds of materials, both digital and tangible, the principal question is how matter is treated (and thus how ruins can be moved). In other words: Expanded Visions is as much an epistemological journey into the possibilities of film as it uncovers what filmmakers do with the material they gather or stumble upon.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Positioning the work of (experimental) filmmakers Andrey Tarkovsky, Karthik Pandian and Yongseok Oh in close proximity to anthropological discourses on representation and visuality, Schneider answers recent calls to orient the arts and sciences towards each other. In this sense, Expanded Visions is yet another cornerstone to the field of visual anthropology, and the confluence of experimental and ethnographic film in the specific. From Catherine Russell’s Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999) to Rupert Cox, Andrew Irving and Chris Wright’s collected volume Beyond Text (2016), there’s an increasing number of anthropological studies that put multimedia, audiovisual and practice-led research on a pedestal.

What sets Expanded Visions apart, among other things, is its critical engagement with the notions of simulacrum and the hyperreal. Instead of positioning hyperreal constructions of reality as the opposite of anthropological inquiries, Schneider positions them as each other’s lining. In the book’s fifth chapter, ‘On the Set of a Cinema Movie in a Mapuche Reservation’, Schneider suggests that field sites as observed reality and locations as places of scripted fictions are fundamentally interwoven. The hyperreal, he writes, ‘is sometimes also generated by some curious doubling or imitation of reality in film and vice versa’, producing effects that are stranger than real (Chapter Five). Blurring the genres of documentary, docu-drama and fiction, the chapter provides convincing anecdotes to stress that storytellers share the desire, or cannot help themselves, to construct reality and (therefore) make fiction.

This fifth chapter chronicles the production of an Argentine feature film, called El Camino (directed by Javier Olivera, 2000). It’s a road movie that is filmed in part in a Mapuche reservation and in a neighbouring town in the region of Patagonia. Schneider joined the film crew to follow and observe the production process. Exploiting the reservation as a film set that represents another reservation has a doubling effect, not only in terms of representation, but also socio-politically: ‘When shooting started, not all the people on the reservation actually knew about the film. The motivation to participate was mostly economic.’ In other words, the film production reproduced some of the power structures that the Mapuche experiences on a daily basis, whereas the recordings themselves border on a situated documentary.

Moreover, ‘The Mapuche [Schneider] spoke to were keen to point out that they should be portrayed as they live today, as “modern” indigenous people’, positioning El Camino as a historical document as much as it is a road movie. More than anything, the production process highlights the various political agendas of and hierarchies between stakeholders. Schneider’s conclusion is that the production of El Camino is insightful, yet problematic: ‘Both the economic inequalities, where the Mapuche find it tempting and necessary to grant access to the reservation and to participate as extras, and the constraints of pre-scripted feature film-making mean that during the shoot the relations between crew and the Mapuche remained problematic.’

In the concluding chapter, Schneider builds upon analyses like these by asking the questions, ‘Can film restitute?’ (Chapter Eight); ‘What is needed to destabilise existing power relations?’; and how do artists and filmmakers aim to decolonise their representational practices? Scrutinising Statues Also Die (1953) by French new wave filmmakers Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, Schneider points towards the long history of colonial thought and Othering within ethnographic museums: ‘The film questions the relegation of African art to ethnographic museums, criticizes the incipient rise of commercial tourist art (fomented by the colonial powers), and provides a trenchant critique of colonialism.’ Relating this historical piece to more contemporary works in visual anthropology and the visual arts, Schneider traces the harrowing liaison between anthropology and colonialism. Specifically, his interpretations of Amanda Strong’s How to Steal a Canoe (2016) – a poetic animation about a Nishnaabeg woman – and Janine Prins’s Legacy of Silence (2017) offer much needed insights into the generative potential and ethical limitations of ‘film as a restitution’.

Analyses like these underline the breadth and criticality of Expanded Visions: A New Anthropology of the Moving Image. In short, it’s a welcome and eloquent contribution to research on the intersection of anthropology and the arts.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

The writing of this review was funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), project number CISC.KC.212.


Connecting local knowledge to International Law – How social science changed the course of a landmark trial

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/06/2021 - 1:35am in

Researchers can play important roles bridging and connecting different communities and their knowledge. In this post, Duncan Green talks to Holly Porter about how her anthropological research has helped to inform cross-cultural understandings of sexual wrongdoing. Discussing the impact this work has had on the trial of LRA commander Dominic Ongwen, and the precedent it sets for the prosecution of … Continued

The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2017 - 4:27am in

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised in her book. Every month, a ragtag group of Londoners gather in the site known as Crossbones Graveyard to commemorate the souls of medieval prostitutes believed to be buried there—the “Winchester Geese,” women who were under the protection of the Church but denied Christian burial. In the Borough of Southwark, not far from Shakespeare's Globe, is a pilgrimage site for self-identified misfits, nonconformists, and contemporary sex workers who leave memorials to the outcast dead. Ceremonies combining raucous humor and eclectic spirituality are led by a local playwright, John Constable, also known as John Crow. His interpretation of the history of the site has struck a chord with many who feel alienated in present-day London. Sondra L. Hausner offers a nuanced ethnography of Crossbones that tacks between past and present to look at the historical practices of sex work, the relation of the Church to these professions, and their representation in the present. She draws on anthropological approaches to ritual and time to understand the forms of spiritual healing conveyed by the Crossbones rites. She shows that ritual is a way of creating the present by mobilizing the stories of the past for contemporary purposes.

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised with:
Bridget Anderson (Professor of Migration and Citizenship, University of Oxford)
Diane Watt (Professor of Medieval Literature, University of Surrey)
Chair: Antonia Fitzpatrick (Departmental Lecturer in History, University of Oxford)