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Swarming and the social dynamics of group violence

Media Release

20 November 2006

Dr Toni Makkai, Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), today released the paper Swarming and the social dynamics of group violence, the most recent publication in the AIC Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice series.

The paper provides a broad overview of different kinds of mass groupings, with 'swarming' defined as the unexpected gathering of large numbers of people in particular public locales.

'Riots such as the Cronulla and Macquarie Fields occurrences and media reports of 'schoolies' week and large numbers of individuals gatecrashing parties raise community concern about the prevalence and causes of group violence.' Dr Makkai said, 'Greater understanding of the dynamics of large groups and the factors that make violence more likely will assist in the development of effective responses to prevent or reduce the escalation of group violence'.

The paper describes different kinds of group formations:

  • raves and flash mobs, which are for fun and generally do not involve violence
  • youth gangs, which are implicated in violence almost by definition
  • riots, their formation and the break out of violence seem to be spontaneous but may be triggered by a specific event and are purposeful
  • mobs, appear similar to riots but violence occurs without any purpose or intent, possibly triggered by excessive alcohol consumption
  • gatecrashers, which may become violent if the crowd dynamics spark it.

Although the paper stresses the need to consider different forms of swarming, there are commonalities identified across events and groups:

  • the use of new communication technologies such as mobile phones
  • access to motor vehicles
  • an emphasis on excitement, thrill-seeking and taking collective control over particular public areas
  • defiance and resistance in relation to authority figures such as the police
  • the potential role of the media in exacerbating the occurrence of violent behaviour by publicising its possibility before the event occurs.

The paper concludes with a summary of measures that have been adopted to help reduce violence and public disorder during 'schoolies' week under three key headings:

  • promoting community safety
  • emphasis on safe fun
  • explicit rules and behaviour boundaries