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Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement (American Politics & Political Economy)


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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

About the Author

Dennis Chong is professor of political science at Northwestern University.

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



Product Details

Chong, Dennis
University of Chicago Press
Chicago :
Social Psychology
Sociology - General
Civil Rights
Social choice
Civil rights movements
Public goods
Civil rights movements -- United States.
General Social Science
Edition Description:
American Politics and Political Economy Series
Series Volume:
no. 165.
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
Professional and scholarly
28 line drawings
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Linguistics » Specific Languages and Groups
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
Reference » Words Phrases and Language

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