Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Harry F. Dahms

Committee Members

Michelle Brown, Amy J. Elias, Paul K. Gellert


This dissertation involves two components: 1) an analysis of the history of flash mobs including detailed descriptions of specific flash mobs and 2) an exploration of what this analysis elucidates concerning the interaction between individuals and social structure. By focusing on the flash mob as a form of communication, the dissertation displays how the flash mob has communicated multiplicitously through various social systems (e.g. art, mass media, economy, politics) to achieve various and often divergent ends. Within this larger understanding of the interaction between flash mobs and social structure this dissertation also finds, through an application of Luhmannian systems theory, that individuals communicate through flash mobs in ways more similar than different from social systems. Most significantly, both individuals and social structures interpenetrate with other systems to communicate via flash mob. Luhmann views social systems as quasi-independent systems that, while determined by their own internal structure, borrow on each other to achieve continued existence an act he calls interpenetration. I argue that within this interpenetration individuals, by acting in a like manner to social systems, experience psychic confluence−a phenomenon in which both individuals and social systems simultaneously influence and alter one another. In this space, despite systems quasi-autonomy, human agency (an individual’s ability to affect social structure) and structure (social structure’s ability to affect individuals) are opened to each other in the self-same moment. Through the analysis of flash mobs, this dissertation illustrates how it may be more instructive not to understand structure and agency as separate, diametrically opposed causal influences, but as co-existing potentialities defined by the same process.

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