Collective Effervescence


Late last month, I was watching a piece by David Byrne on CBS Sunday Morning, about “the return of the social experience”.  As a Talking Heads fan, I would have watched it even if he was talking about the return of large- shouldered sportscoats, but as a man who’s made his career in creating experiences, my interest was undeniably piqued.

In his segment, Byrne shared an idea and term, coined by the renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim called “Collective Effervescence”.  The idea by itself, reflects one of the oldest hallmarks of human society – the part that has bound us together as a race and helped make our proliferation possible.  But what struck me most was how the term bore a striking resemblance to one created by me and my business partner 20 years ago – what we call Fan Convergence.  In our experience, we have found that by bringing likeminded groups together, to discover, to celebrate, to elevate based on a shared passion, the collective energy far surpasses any energy even the most passionate fan can generate by themselves, even on social media.  Durkheim defined “collective effervescence”; a term he discovered by observing the effects of Religious Experiences, like this:

“Collective effervescence refers to moments in societal life when the group of individuals that make up a society, come together in order to perform a religious ritual. During these moments, the group comes together and communicates in the same thought and participates in the same action, which serves to unify a group of individuals. When individuals come into close contact with one another and when they are assembled in such a fashion, a certain “electricity” is created and released, leading participants to a high degree of collective emotional excitement or delirium. This impersonal, extra-individual force, which is a core element of religion, transports the individuals into a new, ideal realm, lifts them up outside of themselves, and makes them feel as if they are in contact with an extraordinary energy.” [1]

Like Byrne, we in the Experiential Industry make no claim to open doors to higher powers.  But what we can lay claim to is creating experiences that elevate the collective consciousness of our attendees.  With a little luck and a little artistry, we can often create moments that bridge the gaps between brands and customers, and even between customers themselves.  It is the unifying force present in both Fan Convergence and Collective Effervescence.

After watching the show, I thought about what this meant, not only for us as Experiential Marketers, but also for us as a country and as a species.  Political rancor continues to rage here as well as in many other western democracies.  We are now in the middle of what I think of as a cold, cultural, civil war.  There’s no shooting, but we do live in a time (again) where families and friends find themselves at odds, only now we’ve moved on from emancipation to newly divisive topics ranging from immigration to vaccines.

As a case in point.  I come from a large, midwestern family that spread out all over the country after college and our personal politics reflect that spread in a way that would give Gallup a migraine.  We spent a week together this past summer in one of our infrequent family reunions.  These don’t happen as much as they used to because the afore mentioned rancor.  This year however, the family got together and laid down the ground rules ahead of time  – rule #1? No Politics.

What ensued was one of the most enjoyable weeks I can remember.  In the absence of these divisive topics, our thoughts and conversations naturally found their way into our common experiences, those from our shared past and other similar ones we’ve experienced on our own.  We found ourselves celebrating our shared passions: our love of music, sports, food, family and friends.  While maybe we didn’t touch the hand of God, we 100% found a collective effervescence.

As we, and hopefully you, are planning the next great event, we would make one humble suggestion; look to create and enforce a politics free zone.  Instead, encourage your attendees to focus on the things they share a love for.  Inspire them to root for a favorite team, to share their fandom and to elevate to a common consciousness.

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