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Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement

Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement is a theoretical study of the dynamics of public-spirited collective action as well as a substantial study of the American civil rights movement and the local and national politics that surrounded it. In this major historical application of rational choice theory to a social movement, Dennis Chong reexamines the problem of organizing collective action by focusing on the social, psychological, and moral incentives of political activism that are often neglected by rational choice theorists. Using game theoretic concepts as well as dynamic models, he explores how rational individuals decide to participate in social movements and how these individual decisions translate into collective outcomes. In addition to applying formal modeling to the puzzling and important social phenomenon of collective action, he offers persuasive insights into the political and psychological dynamics that provoke and sustain public activism. This remarkably accessible study demonstrates how the civil rights movement succeeded against difficult odds by mobilizing community resources, resisting powerful opposition, and winning concessions from the government.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
1. Public-Spirited Collective Action
A collective action problem
Collective action as a prisoner’s dilemma
2. All-Or-Nothing Public Goods
How boycotts can be sustained
Nonviolent protest
The public relations (PR) game
On police brutality
3. Selective Social Incentives and Reputational Concerns
Social incentives
The iterated prisoner’s dilemma
Small-scale and large-scale conventions
Reputational concerns
On reputation and cooperation
Reputation and civil rights activism
Commitments in Selma
Private vs. public preferences
Sympathy and moral concerns
4. Narrowly Rational Expressive Benefits
The benefits of participation
Self-serving expressive benefits
Perceptions of costs and benefits
More on the perception of costs and benefits: "As if" preferences
Correlated costs and benefits
5. Creating the Motivation to Participate in Collective Action
Socially instrumental value
Fulfilling obligations
Successful collective action
6. Coordination Problems in Assurance Games
Coordination vs. prisoner’s dilemma problems
Lynch mobs
Coordination among political activists
Tipping phenomena
Real assurance games
Political entrepreneurs
Data on the student sit-in participants
Refusing to leave well enough alone
7. A Formal Model of Collective Action
Some properties of the supply-and-demand model
Analysis of the supply-and-demand model
The time path of the system
Summary of deductions from the supply-and-demand model
Analyzing the origins of the civil rights movement
Changes in the strength of the opposition
Coordinating preferences: Leadership and organizations
Changes in government responsiveness
8. Strategies of Collective Action
The Albany and Birmingham campaigns
Modeling the Albany and Birmingham campaigns
9. The Rise and Fall of Collective Action
Changes in the assurance game
Satisfaction and the exhaustion of ideas
Disappointment and backlash
The decline of the civil rights movement
The dynamics of rise and decline
The time path of political mobilization
Solution of the general equation
Stability conditions of the model
The path of the civil rights movement
10. Conclusion


APSA Political Economy Section: William H. Riker Book Award

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