Crowds, Masses, Swarms - and the Democratic Public Sphere

Open seminar arranged by AU IDEAS Pilot Centre The Democratic Public Sphere

13.03.2013 | Betina Ramm

Dato ons 10 apr
Tid 09:15 12:00
Sted Langelandsgades Kaserne, Langelandsgade 139, building 1586, room 114


9.15: Welcome and introduction


9.20: Christian Borch, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, CBS:

Crowds, Publics, Democracy: Post-liberal Reflections on the Politics of Crowds


10.00: Geoff Cox, Department of Aesthetics and Communication, AU:

Crowds and Network Power


10.40: Break


10.50: Jan Løhmann Stephensen, Department of Aesthetics and Communication, AU:

Crowds, Swarms, and Multitudes: Subjects of Creative Participation


11.30: General discussion.

Invited discussants: Thomas Olesen and Lasse Lindekilde



In the theoretical tradition ”crowd” and ”mass” predominantly refer to a specific form of social interaction that is characterised by a flock-like behaviour in which people in large numbers without any plan move and act in collective patterns beyond the conscious will of the participating individuals.

            The phenomenon is known from physical space in connection with strikes, political protest movements, football matches, rock concerts etc. where it is generally perceived as a potential threat against public order. Consequently, the authorities have developed preemptive measures under the label ”crowd management”.

            But also in the virtual space of the media the mass phenomenon occurs: for instance in the shape of the transient, but extremely powerful collective fascination that periodically characterises popular trends in the mass media; and not least in the shape of the collective dynamics that can emerge on the internet and the social media in particular where thousands or even millions of people suddenly in a self-reenforcing wave focus their attention in the same direction. All sorts of political movements seek to mobilise on the net by way of this dynamics, but also agents of the market are under the label ”viral marketing” attempting to channel and shape the dynamics for their own purposes.

            In other words, there is no doubt that the phenomenon of crowds and masses is a reality in society and that it represents a potentially powerful factor in social interaction. The crucial question, however, is how we should estimate it and relate to it in the perspective of the democratic public sphere. Do crowds and masses entail a democratising potential that may enrich the public exchange on the common concerns of society? Or are we on the contrary dealing with the effect of lemmings in which the individual is swept away in an irrational flock-fascination that may lead anywhere – also towards totalitarianism?

            And are the forms of collectivity that have in later years been adressed as ”swarm” and ”multitude” merely late modern versions of crowds and masses, or are we dealing with genuinely new phenomena?

            This is the kind of questions we would like to discuss at this seminar.