Collective action

Collective action

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Collective action is the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person. It is a term which has formulations and theories in many areas of the social sciences.

In sociology


As an explanation of social movements, an inquiry into collective action involves examining those factors that cause the setting of standards of social integration, as well as those factors which lead to standards of deviance and conflict. An explanation of a collective action in sociology will involve the explanation of those things which are similar or dissimilar to collective actions at different times and in different places. Theories of collective action emphasise how group behavior can, in some sense, be linked to social [institution]]s.

In political science and economics


The economic theory of collective action is concerned with the provision of public good
Public good
In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good...

s (and other collective consumption) through the collaboration
Collaboration
Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, — for example, an intriguing endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing...

 of two or more individuals, and the impact of externalities
Externality
In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit, not transmitted through prices, incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost or benefit...

 on group behavior. It is more commonly referred to as Public Choice. Mancur Olson
Mancur Olson
Mancur Lloyd Olson, Jr. was a leading American economist and social scientist who, at the time of his death, worked at the University of Maryland, College Park...

's 1965 book The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups
The Logic of Collective Action
The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups is a book by Mancur Olson, Jr. first published in 1965. It develops a theory of political science and economics of concentrated benefits versus diffuse costs.-Overview:...

,
is an important early analysis of the problems of public good cost.

Besides economics, the theory has found many applications in political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

, sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, communication
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

, anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 and environmentalism
Environmentalism
Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements...

.

Collective action problem


The term "collective action problem" describes the situation in which multiple individuals would all benefit from a certain action, which, however, has an associated cost making it implausible that any one individually can or will undertake and solve it alone. The rational choice is then to undertake this as a collective action the cost of which is shared.

Exploitation of the great by the small


Mancur Olson
Mancur Olson
Mancur Lloyd Olson, Jr. was a leading American economist and social scientist who, at the time of his death, worked at the University of Maryland, College Park...

 made the highly controversial claim that individual rational choice
Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or rational action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. It is the main theoretical paradigm in the currently-dominant school of microeconomics...

 leads to situations where individuals with more resources will carry a higher burden in the provision of the public good than poorer ones. Poorer individuals will usually have little choice but to opt for the free rider
Free rider problem
In economics, collective bargaining, psychology, and political science, a free rider is someone who consumes a resource without paying for it, or pays less than the full cost. The free rider problem is the question of how to limit free riding...

 strategy, i.e. they will attempt to benefit from the public good without contributing to its provision. This may also encourage the under-production (inefficient production) of the public good.

Institutional design


While public goods are often provided by governments, this is not always the case. Various institutional designs have been studied with the aim of reducing the collaborative failure. The best design for a given situation depends on the production costs, the utility function, and the collaborative effects, amongst other things. Here are only some examples:

Joint products


A joint-product model analyzes the collaborative effect of joining a private good to a public good. For example, a tax deduction (private good) can be tied to a donation to a charity (public good).

It can be shown that the provision of the public good increases when tied to the private good, as long as the private good is provided by a monopoly (otherwise the private good would be provided by competitors without the link to the public good).

Clubs


Some institutional design, e.g. intellectual property rights
Intellectual property
Intellectual property is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law...

, can introduce an exclusion mechanism and turn a pure public good
Public good
In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good...

 into an impure public good artificially.

If the costs of the exclusion mechanism are not higher than the gain from the collaboration
Collaboration
Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, — for example, an intriguing endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing...

, clubs can emerge. James M. Buchanan
James M. Buchanan
James McGill Buchanan, Jr. is an American economist known for his work on public choice theory, for which he received the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Buchanan's work initiated research on how politicians' self-interest and non-economic forces affect government economic policy...

 showed in his seminal paper that clubs can be an efficient alternative to government interventions.

A nation
Nation
A nation may refer to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, and/or history. In this definition, a nation has no physical borders. However, it can also refer to people who share a common territory and government irrespective of their ethnic make-up...

 can be seen as a club whose members are its citizens. Government would then be the manager of this club.

Federated structure


In some cases, theory shows that collaboration emerges spontaneously in smaller groups rather than in large ones (see e.g. Dunbar's number
Dunbar's number
Dunbar's number is suggested to be a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person...

). This explains why labor unions
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 or charities
Charitable organization
A charitable organization is a type of non-profit organization . It differs from other types of NPOs in that it centers on philanthropic goals A charitable organization is a type of non-profit organization (NPO). It differs from other types of NPOs in that it centers on philanthropic goals A...

 often have a federated structure.

In philosophy


Over the past twenty years or so analytic philosophers have been exploring the nature of collective action in the sense of acting together, as when people paint a house together, go for a walk together, or together execute a pass play. These particular examples have been central for three of the philosophers who have made well known contributions to this literature: Michael Bratman
Michael Bratman
Michael E Bratman is Durfee Professor in the School of Humanities & Sciences and Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. His interests include philosophy of action and moral philosophy. His work in those areas led him to the Belief-Desire-Intention model that is used in many areas,...

, Margaret Gilbert
Margaret Gilbert
Margaret Gilbert is a philosopher best known for her work in the philosophy of social science, and, more specifically, for her founding contributions to the analytic philosophy of social phenomena...

, and John Searle
John Searle
John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...

, respectively.

In and subsequent articles and book chapters including Gilbert (2006, chapter 7) Gilbert argues for an account of collective action according to which this rests on a special kind of interpersonal commitment, what Gilbert calls a "joint commitment". A joint commitment in Gilbert's sense is not a matter of a set of personal commitments independently created by each of the participants, as when each makes a personal decision to do something. Rather, it is a single commitment to whose creation each participant makes a contribution. Thus suppose that one person says "Shall we go for a walk?" and the other says "Yes, let's". Gilbert proposes that as a result of this exchange the parties are jointly committed to go for a walk, and thereby obligated to one another to act as if they were parts of a single person taking a walk. Joint commitments can be created less explicitly and through processes that are more extended in time. One merit of a joint commitment account of collective action, in Gilbert's view, is that it explains the fact that those who are out on a walk together, for instance, understand that each of them is in a position to demand corrective action of the other if he or she acts in ways that affect negatively the completion of their walk. In she discusses the pertinence of joint commitment to collective actions in the sense of the theory of rational choice.

In Searle (1990) Searle argues that what lies at the heart of a collective action is the presence in the mind of each participant of a "we-intention". Searle does not give an account of we-intentions or, as he also puts it, "collective intentionality", but insists that they are distinct from the "I-intentions" that animate the actions of persons acting alone.

In Bratman (1993) Bratman proposed that, roughly, two people "share an intention" to paint a house together when each intends that the house is painted by virtue of the activity of each, and also intends that it is so painted by virtue of the intention of each that it is so painted. That these conditions obtain must also be "common knowledge" between the participants.

Discussion in this area continues to expand, and has influenced discussions in other disciplines including anthropology, developmental psychology, and economics. One general question is whether it is necessary to think in terms that go beyond the personal intentions of individual human beings properly to characterize what it is to act together. Bratman's account does not go beyond such personal intentions. Gilbert's account, with its invocation of joint commitment, does go beyond them. Searle's account does also, with its invocation of collective intentionality. The question of whether and how one must account for the existence of mutual obligations when there is a collective intention is another of the issues in this area of inquiry.

Collective action as a response to climate change



Climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 has been described by some viers as a problem to be solved by international cooperation. The Stern Review
Stern Review
The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a 700-page report released for the British government on 30 October 2006 by economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and also chair of the Centre...

 stated that 'no two countries will face exactly the same situation in terms of impacts or the costs and benefits of action, and no country can take effective action to control the risks that they face alone. International collective action to tackle the problem is required because climate... is a global public good
Public good
In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good...

 — and because co-operative action will greatly reduce the costs of both mitigation and adaption. The international collective response to the climate change problem required is therefore unique, both in terms of its complexity and depth'.

International collective actions that are presently taking place are as follow.
  • multilateral
    Multilateralism
    Multilateralism is a term in international relations that refers to multiple countries working in concert on a given issue.International organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization are multilateral in nature...

     frameworks such as UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol
    Kyoto Protocol
    The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change , aimed at fighting global warming...

  • partnerships, networks, and organisations such as the International Energy Agency
    International Energy Agency
    The International Energy Agency is a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis...

    , that enable coordinated international action
  • mutual understanding of domestic policy goals.


International collective action has been shown to be more likely to succeed where there is mutual self-interest, when it is in response to a shared threat, and where there is leadership by a dominant country.

Game theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...

 has been used to identify key criteria for designing international collective action on climate change. Lessons from game theory include:
  • changing the structure of incentives to make cooperation more appealing
  • understanding the role of reciprocity, particularly when faced with prisoner's dilemma
    Prisoner's dilemma
    The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game, analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W...

     situations: players may adopt strategies of conditional cooperation, where the more others contribute to the public good, the more they will contribute themselves
  • increasing the frequency of contact and transparency (institutional structures and repeated negotiations
  • offering opportunities to renegotiate rules at key stages
  • understanding the role of reputation in influencing outcomes.

FLOSS development as collective action including private actors


The development of Free and Libre Open Source Software FLOSS
Floss
Floss may refer to:* Dental floss, used to clean teeth* Embroidery thread, machine or hand-spun yarn for embroidery* Fairy floss or candyfloss, alternative names for cotton candy* Rousong, i.e. meat floss-Computing:...

 is an example of collective action where individuals create a public good: the source code freely available to everyone. The uniqueness is that not only individuals contribute to the common good but also private firms invest into the production of the freely available knowledge. Therefore this phenomenon is called private-collective innovation
Private-collective model of innovation
The term private-collective model of innovation was coined by Eric von Hippel and Georg von Krogh in their 2003 publication in Organization Science...

.

See also

  • Collaborative innovation network
  • Collective intelligence
    Collective intelligence
    Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making in bacteria, animals, humans and computer networks....

  • Common Property Resource
  • Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics is a research program in economics and constitutionalism that has been described as extending beyond the definition of 'the economic analysis of constitutional law' in explaining the choice "of alternative sets of legal-institutional-constitutional rules that constrain the...

  • Free rider problem
    Free rider problem
    In economics, collective bargaining, psychology, and political science, a free rider is someone who consumes a resource without paying for it, or pays less than the full cost. The free rider problem is the question of how to limit free riding...

  • Mass collaboration
    Mass collaboration
    Mass collaboration is a form of collective action that occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature...

  • Nash equilibrium
    Nash equilibrium
    In game theory, Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy unilaterally...

  • Pareto efficiency
    Pareto efficiency
    Pareto efficiency, or Pareto optimality, is a concept in economics with applications in engineering and social sciences. The term is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who used the concept in his studies of economic efficiency and income distribution.Given an initial allocation of...

  • Polytely
    Polytely
    Polytely can be described as frequently, complex problem-solving situations characterized by the presence of not one, but several goals, endings.Modern societies face an increasing incidence of various complex problems...

  • Prisoner's dilemma
    Prisoner's dilemma
    The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game, analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W...

  • Private-Collective Model of Innovation
    Private-collective model of innovation
    The term private-collective model of innovation was coined by Eric von Hippel and Georg von Krogh in their 2003 publication in Organization Science...

  • Public good
    Public good
    In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good...

  • Social fact
    Social fact
    In sociology, social facts are the values, cultural norms, and social structures external to the individual and capable of exercising a constraint on that individual....

  • Tragedy of the Commons
    Tragedy of the commons
    The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this...

  • Tragedy of the anticommons
    Tragedy of the anticommons
    The tragedy of the anticommons is a neologism coined by Michael Heller to describe a coordination breakdown where the existence of numerous rightsholders frustrates achieving a socially desirable outcome. The term mirrors the older term tragedy of the commons used to describe coordination...