I recently shared a taxonomy of Social organisation, looking at ‘tribal’ structures, ‘communities’, and ‘organisations’. I’m continuing to evolve this, partly to allow me to try out new language. The vocabulary we use, to describe things, is laden with predetermined context: sometimes by sticking with the same language, we stick with the same understanding, so it can be useful to evolve language deliberately, to give us permission to explore new meaning. Today, i want to consider ‘crowds’.


I’m considering crowds as communities of purpose or intent, but with a specific context that they are emergent and transient. This would allow for a structure something like this: tribal structures are trust bonded, and reasonably persistent, communities are meta tribal structures, and range from defined and short term, to ad hoc and long term, and crowds are emergent and always transient. Possibly crowds become communities if they persist for long enough? This means that the base unit of social organisation is the tribe, communities are functional structures that we can use to discuss organisations, and crowds are more aligned to social movement, agreement, or protest, but specifically in the short term.

Potentially crowds can act as seeds for community. Rapid prototype structures.

To try that language in a different way: members of a tribe may come together in a crowd. Members of many tribes may form a community, and on a particular occasion, or to serve a particular purpose, that community may spawn a crowd. And from across many communities, we may see emergent crowds arise in response to specific, and both location and time bound need.

But why even both to think about this? It could be an argument about semantics.

I think the notion of crowds may be valuable when considering accepted views and the movement of those views (what a community thinks), as well as when considering ‘sense making’ and access to knowledge.

Let’s consider a couple of examples: an organisation wants to source new ideas, so it deploys an ‘innovation’ system, where people can lodge ideas, and vote them up or down. If a community emerges around one particular idea, perhaps that is a crowd. If it persists, perhaps it becomes a more permanent community? But the very presence of the crowd allows purpose, or agreement, to be expressed.

Or another example, in the UK right now, University Lecturers are on strike in a dispute on pensions: perhaps the picket lines are crowds, united in dissent, but transient in nature.

We could consider this in the context of organisational change, and i will build this upon the language i’m using within the Dynamic Change Framework: to facilitate change, we should consider establishing SEED Communities, but perhaps also consider the use of crowds. Crowds may form part of our ‘sensory’ array, our ability to gauge the temperature of a community, to understand the dominant local view.

As with all social structures, and language, it’s contextual, and emotive. After all, when a crowd assembles, if we don’t like the message, we condemn it as a mob. If it’s genteel, we call it a gathering. The same emotive contextualisation is true of all social structures: church groups we call ‘congregations’, but groups of street artists are gangs.

There is one other angle of crowds to explore, building out of the Tribes and Trust work: crowds seems to be efficient structures for forming consensus, but also for exclusion. Membership carries immediate validation and vindication, or instant exclusion or persecution. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Possibly the consideration of crowds is just a useful mechanism to consider social structures and movement, but it may form something more permanent in my work.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Community, Conformity, Control and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Crowds

  1. Pingback: Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1] | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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