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Analyzing Collective Action

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Conference: 27th Conference of the International Association of Agricultural Economists
Location: Beijing, China
Conf. Date: August 16-22
Date: 2009
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/7992
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): collective action
social dilemmas
human behavior--theory
Abstract: "My line of attack on this immense topic will involve the following steps. First, I will discuss the growing and extensive theoretical literature positing a host of structural variables presumed to affect the likelihood of individuals achieving collective action to overcome social dilemmas. None of these structural variables, however, should really make any difference in the probability of successful collective action if we continue to treat the model of rationality that has proved successful in explaining behavior and outcomes in competitive market settings as a universal theory of human behavior. Thus, the second major section of the paper will examine how a theory of boundedly rational, norm-based human behavior is a better foundation for explaining collective action than a model of maximizing material payoffs to self. If one posits that individuals can use reciprocity and reputations to build trust in dilemma situations, then one can begin to explain both successful and unsuccessful efforts to overcome social dilemmas through collective action. The third section of the paper will then briefly examine the linkage between the structural measures discussed in the first section with the core individual relationships discussed in the second. In conclusion, I will reflect on the challenge that social scientists face in testing collective-action theory in light of the large number of variables posited to affect outcomes."

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