Transaction and the Crowd

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Erik SCHNEIDERHAN, University of Toronto, Canada
With the increasing reliance of society on the internet as a way to organize social relations, sociologists are (re)focusing their attention on the crowd as a unit of analysis. Big data collection techniques and ever more sophisticated statistical analysis make it possible to look at how enormous groups of individuals relate to one another. However, social theory has not kept pace with these empirical and technical developments. In this paper, I draw on Dewey and Bentley’s (1949) concept of transaction to engage in (re)theorizing the crowd. I show how thinking of the crowd as a transaction shifts the focus from interactions between individuals to mutually constitutive relations that are reciprocal and ongoing, part of a social “stew pot” (Sullivan, 2001). I then use the case of internet crowdfunding to put these ideas to work, asking how a transactional theory of the crowd might get us to think differently. The paper concludes with a general discussion of the generative potential of transactional theory for sociological inquiry.