Institutions for collective action

Self-government and self-enforcement of institutions for collective action


The institutions for collective action were (mostly) self-enforced. Instead of relying on external bodies for relief, they provided for their own needs, by forming rather autonomous, self-governed interest groups often enjoying good relations with local authorities. The fact that people formed groups is in itself not striking, but that they actually regulated and controlled the execution of these rules (including punishment) themselves, is a less obvious practice. In order to make their collective project work, guilds and commons both relied heavily on group norms, as opposed to formal legal enactments, as enforcement mechanisms. They designed most of the rules themselves, with or without the involvement of the local powers. This should not be surprising: involvement in the design of the rules has in sociological research proven to offer a better guarantee of success (Jager, Janssen, De Vries et al, 2000). The members supplemented these rules with impressive sets of 'instruments' to make their alliance work.

These institutions also frequently developed methods to protect their organization from the functioning of the free market. It has often been assumed – but likewise highly contested – that they tried to achieve a complete monopoly. But in practice it did not necessarily turn out as such (see for example the critique of Hickson and Thompson (1991). Notwithstanding the strict regulation in writing, in practice there were many and often rather radical exceptions to the guilds regulation that prevented any form of monopoly from being established (Panhuysen, 1997).



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