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Session 3 of the Archaeology of Gatherings Conference, Sligo, October 2013
Suitably refreshed, entertained and educated by Simon O’Dwyer, [Website | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | SoundCloud | YouTube] we reassembled for the first afternoon session, again chaired by Sam Moore. This portion of the conference began with Prof. Clark McPhail (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). Prof. McPhail was also the Keynote Speaker (Sociology) for the conference. His chosen topic was The Life Course of Temporary Gatherings. His first observation was that archaeologists appear to prefer the term ‘gathering’, as opposed to the word ‘crowd’, which is preferred by sociologists. He then took us through a collection of his photographs from the period from 1965 to 1968, chronicling the Civil Rights, Anti-Vietnam War, and Labor Movements in the US. He described how his early work was about taking photographs and making notes. He was recording these crowds, but there was no defined methodology. At that time there were various theories on crowds and collective behaviour. However, none of the theories specified any behaviour, nor were there criteria in place to judge the behaviours of the collective.
|'Going to the Match' by L. S. Lowry (Source)|
All gatherings are comprised of an alternating and varied combination of individual and collective actions. McPhail’s research shows that these may be broken down into a number of components: Facing (convergent facing – e.g. towards a stage or speaker); Voicing (e.g. chanting or singing); Manipulating (e.g. hands in air/clapping/gesturing (pointing, single-finger salute etc.)); Posturing and Locomotion (e.g. sitting/embracing/SleepingDragons/prostrating (islamic prayers etc.), walking, or marching). Researchers use field notes, photography, and video to identify and record how two or more individuals can interact in a crowd. Prof. McPhail’s work shows that there are some 40 elementary forms of collective action (EFCA), in terms of stances and/or interactions.
Prof. McPhail and his associates have applied their process to over 150 gatherings, including the March for Life; the National Organization for Women; and the Promise Keepers’ Stand in the Gap: A Sacred Assembly of Men event at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1997. In the latter case, operatives recorded 55 ‘observation minutes’ between 10am and 7pm, which included two hours before and after the event. Recording at this level of granularity allows ‘quantitate estimates of the proportions of persons in a gathering participating in one or more EFCA over time and hence a window into the dynamics of collective actions within gatherings’. McPhail argues that, although there are a number of caveats, the idea of unanimity is an illusion within group dynamics – everyone is not always doing the same thing and there is no mutually inclusive form of participation. He ended with a call for further research to produce a more general theory of purposeful action.
|Stonehenge Free Festival (Source)|
|Portumna '85 ... before the flood (© W. Fahy Collection)|
|Brian Boru, King of Munster (Source)|
With the conclusion of a brief question and answer session with the speakers, we all ambled out into the light for fresh air and coffee.