Book review - Orlesa Grosvenor SYA 4930 Book Review Dennis...

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Orlesa Grosvenor September 25, 2009 SYA 4930 Book Review Dennis Chong’s Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement is a study of the dynamics of “public spirited collective action”. Chong explores the civil rights movement with a rational choice approach. He uses secondary data from historical documents and studies on the movement to examine the problem of initiating collective action by focusing on the different incentives of political activism towards people who participate. The civil rights movement is used as Chong’s reference model in this examination. The author describes the civil rights movement as “the quintessential example of public spirited action in our time” (Chong 1991:1). While the book is focused on detailing and describing the workings of the movement’s success, it is not a detailed history of the movement. The author instead focuses on the choices of actors and circumstances that led to the movement’s rise and fall. Through his research he has made conclusions about what circumstances led to the spark of the movement and fueled collective action and political protests that characterize the movement. Chong argues that the civil rights movement was successful because of the existence of certain factors that are critical to the initiation of collective action and success of any movement. The chapters detail these factors and use specific examples and events from the movement to support the author’s claims. The aim of this study was to answer two major questions in relation to the civil rights movement: how did “rational” individuals decide whether or not to participate in the movement and how did these individual decisions translate into collective outcomes? The major premise in the study is that people are rational actors whose decisions are guided by rational calculations
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(Chong 1991:1). A rational person is assumed to be motivated by goals and these same goals drive that person’s actions. The problem behind collective action when it comes to social movements is that the possible outcomes have collective instead of individual consequences. These collective consequences are dependent on the wholesale participation of large numbers of concerned citizens. Because the benefits can be enjoyed by everyone, however, the temptation for most people is to become “free riders” and save on the cost of contributing to the public good. Should the movement be successful, these free-riders (although they contributed nothing to the movement) still enjoy the same benefits of the participants. Chong uses the example of the “prisoner’s dilemma” to illustrate how plans to initiate mass political action are doomed from the start because rational individuals will always prefer to be free riders rather than participate in the collective efforts to achieve public goals (Chong 1991:3). In Chong’s opinion, the civil rights movement was successful because it certain factors
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Book review - Orlesa Grosvenor SYA 4930 Book Review Dennis...

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