Institutions for Collective Action

Exclusiveness of institutions for collective action


The individuals taking part in guilds and commons could not remain anonymous; in most cases they even had to swear an oath before they could become a member, which also made them visible and identifiable to the rest of the group. As much as these may have had a deep and long-lasting effect on society, the anonymous crowds that figured in riots had entirely different objectives and applied other methods and organization models than the individuals that formed institutionalised organizations such as guilds and commons.


It is known from sociological research that the degree to which participants in collective action know each other influences the potential success (in terms of reciprocity) of that group (Jager, Janssen, De Vries et al, 2000). The practice of swearing an oath when becoming a member of a guild, thus constitutes a fundamental difference between such members and those simply participating in revolts and riots, where the group was often very diverse and anonymous. Their willingness to cooperate in the future lies in the potential benefits participants may obtain and the security this provides. Jager et al (2000) state that 'Jorgerson and Papciak (1981) found that cooperative behaviour is promoted if the other people can observe one’s personal choice behaviour. This effect only occurs when there is no communication'. This suggests that identifiability has essentially the same effect as communication, namely the promotion of ‘social control’ to exercise personal restraint.


This ‘social control’ mechanism may be responsible for the fact that people are more willing to work hard under conditions of high visibility than in more anonymous settings. Group size also plays a role in the identifiability of behaviour: the larger the group, the more anonymous one is’ (this has in sociological literature also been referred to as a ‘temporal dilemma’ or the choice between investing in today’s personal advantage or safeguarding future generations’ survival (See Jager et al, 2000). This ‘willingness’ has been at the centre of sociological/behavioural research on collective action (e.g. the works of Olson, Ostrom).



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