The French social theorist Emile Durkheim coined the term "effervescence" to describe the experience of collective events. It is a term that well describes the fizzing excitement of the past two weeks. That excitement largely derives from our relationship with the medal-bedecked Team GB – each medallist's story connects to our own experiences of hardship and carries the hope of redemption.
But it also derives from our relationship to each other. As we scream Mo Farah towards gold, we imagine millions in their homes doing the same. This "imagined community" becomes real when we feel able to talk to strangers the next day in the bus queue. We can say, "Wasn't it wonderful?", on the basis that they will understand, reciprocate and validate our feelings. In short, we develop a shared identity.
But what will endure, beyond an inchoate warm glow? It may be true that, when it comes to watching sport, we feel that we are all in it together. But will that be true when we return to mundane social and economic realities? The track record isn't good.
The more the Olympics becomes a symbol of what is good about Britain, the more we see arguments about the meaning of the Olympics as a means of defining national identity and national priorities. In the end, that is likely to be the true legacy of these Games.
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