Testing Collective Action Theory



The goal of this book is to attempt to extend, expand and test empirically the implications of the Collective Action Research Program. This set of rational theories began with Mancur Olson (Olson 1965). It broke with the prevailing theory of pluralism, which posited that groups would form around the interests of citizens. Yet, empirical research showed that, instead of knitting, bird-watching, and classic auto clubs, 90% of the organizations comprised only labor and management. Clearly, pluralism was wrong. Olson put his creative thinking toward the process of mobilization. In other words, how would one recruitmembers of an interest group to lobby Congress? Olson thought through the problem systematically: first, it would be necessary to have a public good, that is, some goal that could not diminish with use and would be available to everyone in a region. Economists call these nonrival or noncompetitive goods. Examples of such objectives are clean air, defense, clean water, lower taxes, or more tax subsidies. Given that this is the case, a second conclusion is necessary: no particular person would have to participate to receive the public good. Thus, he reasoned, most people would not participate. And indeed, 95% of people do not participate (Lichbach 1995). These non-participants are called free-riders. They gain the benefit of a new public policy, but do nothing toward its implementation. This conclusion created yet another problem: how would one be able to recruit members to lobby? Given that success would benefit everyone in a class, the incentive to participate would necessarily be larger for active members. Olson (Olson 1965) called these selective incentives, special payments in favors, goods or money to active members that were unavailable to free-riders. Suddenly the empirical world of labor and management groups and the absence of bird-watching groups made sense: pluralism was wrong, but collective action theory worked. And this theory differed from its predecessors in a fundamental way: it assumed that people think. Structural models force people to act by conditions, but Olson focused on individuals.


Public Good Game Theory Collective Action Rational Choice Theoretical Implication 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brinton C (1938) The anatomy of revolution. Random House, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cox GW (1997) Making votes count: Strategic interaction in the world’s electoral systems. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Cox GW (1999) The empirical content of rational choice theory: A reply to green and shapiro. J Theor Politics 11(2):147–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davenport C, Eads M (2001) Cued to coerce or coercing cues? Mobilization 6(2):151–171Google Scholar
  5. DeNardo J (1985) Power in numbers: The political strategy of protest and rebellion. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  6. Francisco RA (1993) Theories of protest and the revolutions of 1989. Am J Political Sci 37(3): 663–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Francisco RA (1995) Coercion and protest in three coercive states. J Conflict Resolution 39(2):263–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Francisco RA (1996) Coercion and protest: An empirical test in two democratic states. Am J Political Sci 40(4):1179–1204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Green D, Shapiro I (1994) Pathologies of rational choice theory. Yale University Press, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  10. Gurr TR (1970) Why men rebel. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  11. Lakatos I (1970) Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmmes. In: Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Laver M, Shepsle KA (1996) Making and breaking governments. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lichbach M (1992) Nobody cites nobody else: Mathematical models of domestic conflict. Defence Econ 3(4):341–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lichbach MI (1995) The rebel’s dilemma. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  15. Lichbach MI (1996) The cooperator’s dilemma. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  16. Moore B Jr (1966) Social origins of dictatorship and democracy. Beacon Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  17. Olson M (1965) The logic of collective action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  18. Palfrey T (ed) (1991) Laboratory research in political economy. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  19. Rasler K (1996) Concessions, repression, and political protest in the Iranian revolution. Am Sociological Rev 61:132–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Riker WH (1963) The theory of political coalitions. Yale University Press, New Haven, CTGoogle Scholar
  21. Riker WH (1982) A Reply to Ordeshook and Rae. In: Political equilibrium, Kluwer Nijhoff, Boston, pp 41–46Google Scholar
  22. Skocpol T (1979) States and social revolutions. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Snyder D (1978) Collective violence: A research agenda and some strategic considerations. J Conflict Resolution 22:499–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tilly C (1978) From mobilization to revolution. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MAGoogle Scholar
  25. Wintrobe R (1998) The political economy of dictatorship. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dept. Political ScienceUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

Personalised recommendations