CollAct TheoryNew - Pamela Oliver Sociology 626 Spring 2004...

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Pamela Oliver Sociology 626 Spring 2004 1 Collective action theory I. "Olson's problem." The problem of the free rider. A. Group benefits are inherently shared, cannot privatize your benefit. 1. Builds on prior recognition that taxes cannot be voluntary. 2. Thus everyone has an incentive to "free ride" on the efforts of others, to let others pay the price of the good 3. Arguments are especially important for theorizing why some "public goods" need to be provided coercively through the political system. Also very relevant to problem of environmental pollution. 4. Highly influential in social movements: problematizes mobilization. Collective action cannot be assumed automatically to flow from common interests. 5. Efficacy: the probability of "making a difference." Whether your action will make a noticeable difference in the collective good. Paying attention to the problem of efficacy is probably one of the most important insights flowing out of Olson's work. 6. NOTE: Olson did NOT argue that people participate in social movements out of rational self-interest. In fact, his argument implies the opposite. Can you see why? This point is VERY OFTEN misunderstood, even by published sociologists. II. Olson's Size argument & his critics A. Olson argues (says he proves) that larger groups are more likely to have free rider problems B. There clearly IS a free rider problem in certain "large group" contexts, especially society-level provision of infrastructure & services (military defense, transportation) AND environmental degradation & pollution C. But detailed investigation of these issues (by others) shows that number of beneficiaries, per se, is not the issue. 1. Depends upon level of jointness of supply and 2. whether the good is subject to "crowding" (less valuable the more others share it). D. The REAL "size" problem is the efficacy and externality problem: can you by yourself (or you and the social group you are connected to) make a noticeable difference in the collective good? Or is the collective good too much controlled by the actions of others and your own actions are not enough to make a difference?
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