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The Dynamics and Dilemmas of Collective Action

Douglas D. Heckathorn
American Sociological Review
Vol. 61, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 250-277
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096334
Page Count: 28
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The Dynamics and Dilemmas of Collective Action
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Abstract

Theoretical accounts of participation in collective action have become more divergent. Some analysts employ the Prisoner's Dilemma paradigm, other analysts suggest that different social dilemmas underlie collective action, and still others deny that social dilemmas play any significant role in collective action. I propose a theoretically exhaustive inventory of the dilemmas arising in collective action systems and show that five games, including the Prisoner's Dilemma, can underlie collective action. To analyze action within each game I use a dynamic selectionist model based on three modes of organization--voluntary cooperation, strategic interaction, and selective incentives. Social dilemmas exist in four of the five games, and conflicting accounts of collective action have focused on different games and modes of organization. As collective action proceeds from initiation to rapid expansion to stability, its game type varies in a way that can be precisely characterized as movement through a two-dimensional game-space. Finally, I distinguish between two ways of promoting collective action: One way focuses on resolving the dilemma within a particular game; the other focuses on changing the game so the dilemma is more easily resolved or eliminated.

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