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date: 24 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter challenges stereotypical representations of rational approaches as necessarily based on isolated individuals. It argues instead that the real contributions of rational action theory to understanding social movements have been made at the group level, where simplifying and even simplistic assumptions about individual motivations have permitted genuine insights into the differences between different kinds of actions and the differences between groups. There is not one dynamic of collective action, but many dynamics. Providing the collective good is unproblematic in some situations and impossible in others. In some contexts, incentive systems help promote collective action, while in other parts of the space, incentive systems can actually lead people to enforce outcomes that no one wants. A theory of strategic agency is needed to understand why collective action takes different forms in different contexts and how actors can make choices that change the strategic game they are playing.

Keywords: collective action problem, critical mass, free-riding, group size, incentives, strategy

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