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Collective Action In A Digital Era

This session will be about collective action theory and the contemporary processes by which the public mobilizes for political and policy change.

Phil Howard

on 19 February 2018

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Transcript of Collective Action In A Digital Era

Collective Action
In A Digital Era

The Tragedy of the Commons
Collective Goods and Collective Action
Social Media and Collective Action
Before we can understand the role of media in collective action, we need to define the media and understand the basics of collective action theory from before digital media became so prevalent.
– All societies face resource problems: population grows geometrically; food production arithmetically.
– population growth increases numbers of farmers on same plots of land; rent-seeking behavior with resources.
Marx & Engles
– science and technology help overcome and manage the natural world.
The Tragedy of the Commons
Garrett Hardin
, 1968

“Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings tragedy to all.”
The Logic of Collective Action
Mancur Olson
, 1965
A collective action problem is “a situation in which players can choose between cooperating and not cooperating; all will benefit if all cooperate, individual will still benefit if they do not cooperate.”

A common, collective or public good is defined as “any good such that if person X consumes it, it cannot feasibly be withheld from others in that group.
Assumes competition of interests.

Assumes people always maximize self-interest in a rational way.

Assumes no primal biological urge to organize; we always have choice.
Joint in Supply
- With a given level of production, consumption by one actor does not lessen the quantity of the good available for others

- If one can consume it, then all can consume it
What Are Collective Goods?
Larger groups fail more often than small groups.

In the rare case that larger groups work, such groups must be ‘privileged’ with a subgroup willing to act on its own.
2 Claims in The Logic of Collective Action
Each person gets proportionally smaller benefit from collective good; since each person only gets a fraction of benefit, they contribute little.

Usually takes an
to act because it costs more to organize a large group then a small group:
One member will rarely act for collective benefit unless individual return is sufficient to cover costs of action.
Large groups must offer sanctions + incentives for loyalty of members who might be tempted to form small groups.
Large groups provide goods to members, but must also offer non-collective goods to attract new members.
Small free rider problem.
Small groups are more viable:
Costs of organization are less
Each member receives a more substantial portion of the collective good
Small groups are still ‘sub-optimal’:
The distribution of goods and burdens unequal
Still need unilateral action of a few members for whom providing the good is more than their costs
Big free rider problem - since any member can consume the good once it has been provided, some members will exploit the good and withdraw a big portion of the collective good
Small Groups Fail
Privileged Group
A few members have an incentive to provide the collective good
No formal organization
Complex psychological, social, political, economic incentives

Intermediate Group
There are so many members that a free-rider is not noticed
No subgroup has an incentive to act on their own
Institutions are necessary, or DOOMED TO FAIL

Latent Group
There are so many members that neither the action nor inaction of any particular member would help provide the collective good.
Economic incentives sometime present, but DOOMED TO FAIL
Olson’s Typology of Groups
Ideologies often overpower a rational decision-maker.

Olson's typology of groups may explain the working of established groups like firms, unions and some political parties, but may not help explain groups that arise out of broad and vibrant social movements.

Olson’s model only allows for collective benefits that can be broken down and distributed to members who make an informed rational choice to associate with the group.
Is A Rational-Actor Model Appropriate?
Latent groups are not always doomed to fail:

Political Entrepreneurship
- people bring collective good for their own career interests.

Elective Incentives
- help maintain organization long after inciting incident; provides collective and ancillary goods.

Extra-Rational Behavior
- unselfish motives of members bring about a collective good.

Important Subgroups
- subgroups are not motivated by amount of benefit divided among all numbers, but by the ratio of benefit to costs borne by the subgroup. In other words, the subgroup will act as long as it barely benefits.
Hardin’s Response
Actors adjust their behavior to actual or anticipated preferences with policy coordination.

For actors to cooperate, they must share goals and know that they will benefit.

Cooperation is either tacit without communication, negotiated or imposed.

Cooperation depends on the ability of actors to communicate with each other.
Collective Action Occurs When...
To get out of these scenarios the community has to:
Build shared norms into the organization

To get out of these scenarios the organization has to:
Allow as self-enforcement & self-regulation possible
Provide sanctions (effective, but not large)
Communicate payoff structure, administrative rules for decision makers, procedures for the public, and information about behavior

To get out of these scenarios the resource has to:
Have a low discount rate
Be in serious shortage
Social Media Way Out of the Tragedy?
Collective Action,
Russell Hardin
The Logic of Collective Action,
Mancur Olson
Governing the Commons,
Elinor Ostrom
Large Groups Fail
For the purposes of this class, "the media" is defined as:
the information infrastructure and tools used to produce and distribute content;
the content that takes the form of personal messages, news, ideas, and cultural products;
the people, organizations, and industries that produce and consume content.
Philip N. Howard

This work can be cited as Howard, P. (2015). Collective Action in a Digital Era [Prezi]. Retrieved from philhoward.org. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non Commercial - Share Alike 4.0 International License.
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