Article ID: CBB001214380

Collectivity, Human Fulfilment and the “Force of Life”: Wilfred Trotter's Concept of the Herd Instinct in Early 20th-Century Britain (2014)


The article traces the origination of the psychological concept of the `herd instinct', popularized by British surgeon Wilfred Trotter, locating this in a distinctive moment of dialogue between the natural and human sciences. It challenges the incorrect association of Trotter's model with the crowd theory of Gustave Le Bon and negative commentaries on mass culture. In contrast, it shows that Trotter's model rests on imitation and suggestion not as the sign of a derogated culture but as the ground of associated life, with altruism as its highest expression. His argument that individuals possessed an inherent capacity for association and a disposition to act in the interests of the social group was designed to challenge the hierarchical models of Social Darwinism. Instead, he highlighted the evolutionary importance of variability and innovation and proposed a horizontal model of cooperation as the basis of adaptation. Trotter's narrative of human potential pre-dated and informed Freud's own collective psychology, as well as providing an influential challenge to his theory of repression. The widespread take-up of Trotter's model of the herd instinct in the context of futures thinking, forming the basis of an egalitarian approach to governance that proposed human fulfilment and social progress as complementary aims, supports the article's argument that psychological approaches to collectivity were well established prior to the First World War rather than formed in response to it, and that these were embedded within social thinking across the political spectrum, rather than derived for instrumentally conservative purposes.

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Authors & Contributors
Sensales, Gilda
Dal Secco, Alessandra
Trotter, Wilfred
Smith, Anthony Woodruff
Sklansky, Jeffrey P.
Salerno, Roger A.
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
History of Psychology
Russian Studies in History
History of the Human Sciences
History of Education Quarterly
Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
University of North Carolina Press
Keynes Press, British Medical Association
Het Spinhuis
Cornell University Press
Cambridge University Press
Social psychology
Human sciences
Science and politics
African Americans and science
Trotter, Wilfred
Mead, George Herbert
Ellwood, Charles Abram
Sarfatti, Gualtiero
Reich, Wilhelm
Piaget, Jean
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
18th century
United States
Soviet Union
Great Britain
University of Chicago

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