The “English Disease” and Political Protest: How Social Identity Theory Can Enhance Public Safety at Crowd Events

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Christopher Barney


This thesis explores the question of how to address a new violent crowd event paradigm to ensure public safety. Continued intergroup violence at crowd events not only jeopardizes public safety but also undermines core expectations of democratic values in a civil society. An analysis of crowd control theory and methodologies used to address soccer hooliganism as a proxy for political protest intergroup violence shows how modern crowd psychology theory offers insight and the means to engage crowd protest groups proactively to reduce violence, thereby ensuring a civil society. This research examines three case studies in which a crowd event had the potential to devolve into intergroup violence. Analysis of each event was derived from either after-action reports, news reporting, scholarly journal articles, or a combination thereof. Each case study examined, in relation to specific components of modern crowd psychology, components of social identity theory (SIT) and the elaborated social identity model (ESIM) as a framework for comparative analysis. The findings from this analysis show that applying modern crowd theory to crowd control methodologies can mitigate group violence.
The use of SIT and ESIM provides law enforcement a more dynamic, proactive relationship with crowd groups. Understanding group identity through the lens of SIT provides a strategic awareness based on specific analytical markers. ESIM builds upon this awareness to understand how group identity may change based on external influences and the changing perceptions of legitimacy. The context gained through group identity analysis affords the opportunity for communication and responsiveness between law enforcement and crowd groups. This dynamic relationship could mitigate violent intergroup tendencies.
SIT and ESIM directly correlate with crowd control methodologies in practical ways. Research into soccer hooliganism as a proxy for political protest, as well as comparative case study analysis, illustrates that specific crowd control methodologies are effective at enhancing legitimacy. Intelligence analysis and outreach in advance of events build relationships between law enforcement and anticipated crowd groups. The use of specific officers as liaisons before, during, and after events enhances communication and might prevent misunderstandings that shift group identities. Finally, scaling police tactics to meet group identity and posture could foster legitimacy between all groups. A concerted effort by all groups to communicate their needs and intentions, coupled with actions that convey legitimacy to all, could avert circumstances that might alter the identities of those more prone to violence.
The modern lens of SIT and ESIM fosters a greater awareness of group identity and a crowd control posture intent on intergroup violence prevention. The assurance of public safety at political protests helps create the conditions for a civil society.

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