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Social Cooperation in Collective-Action Situations

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Conference: International Conference on Contributions of Cooperative Self-Help to Economic and Social Development
Location: Germany
Conf. Date: October 7-9
Date: 2009
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/7993
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): cooperation
collective action
social dilemmas
human behavior
social science
free riding
bounded rationality
Abstract: "The theory of collective action is a core theory underlying a substantial work in all of the social sciences and is particularly important for the study of cooperation in diverse settings. Whenever groups try to gain joint benefits through collective action, some benefits can be generated by the actions of the initial cooperators whether or not all participate. If many decide they will free-ride on the actions of others, the others become more doubtful about contributing to the collective good. If more and more actors pull out, eventually no one cooperates. What could be of mutual benefit turns out to be either the absence of a joint benefit or, even worse, the presence of a joint bad. In this chapter, I will discuss the growing theoretical literature positing a host of structural variables that affect the likelihood of collective action to overcome social dilemmas. Drawing on a theory of boundedly rational, norm-based human behavior, the chapter will link social structure--including the possibility of changing rules-- to successful cooperative efforts. The last section of the chapter discusses the challenge facing all social scientists in building better theory in light of the large number of variables that affect cooperation in social dilemmas."

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