Comparative politics reflects cognizant comparisons in assessment of political practices, institutions, behavior, and processes of systems of a government in a more thorough way. Additionally, it also focuses on other agencies, organizations, and individuals outside governments, but have the capacity to influence the formal governmental organs. In this case, collective action sets in since such bodies use it to seek significant socioeconomic or political changes to the status quo (Orvis and Drogus 355). The purpose of this essay is to address the problems of collective action in comparative politics.
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According to the theorist, Elinor Ostrom, the concept of collective action is the main subject of political science and its problem is deeply rooted in a social dilemma equated to the game theory terms of a prisoner’s dilemma (Boix and Stokes 186). A social dilemma is a situation in which a person must select an option from an interdependent manner. That is, individuals may opt to choose an option with optimal short-term benefits, which definitely yields less than the socially maximized results.
In this sense, even rational individuals who seek optimal gains are most likely not to cooperate even if it was the right strategy and in their best interest to do so. Ostrom asks how people in social dilemmas can avoid that challenge of collective action and maximize outcomes (Boix and Stokes 187). It is imperative to understand aspects of structural conditions, such as various actors, expected benefits, similarity of actors, the extent of communication, and the repetition of events, which are most likely to enhance cooperation.
Human behavior is a major factor in the collective action theory. Individually, one may opt for a serious action that sufficiently accounts for interests of all players. In such instances, one can observe that it might be possible to realize collective action in some settings. For instance, local organizations may successfully engage in collective action at the grassroots level. On the contrary, people may coldly dismiss or violently hurt other players based on the setting in which they operate.
However, when a rational individual is not considered, then attention should turn on players who operate in an environment of informational uncertainty and who construct their behaviors, actions, and embrace their norms of behaviors and gain knowledge from social and institutional contexts of their environments. Within this context, collective action problem seems to emanate from inherent human behavior associated with adaptation to a situation. That is, humans are generally adaptive, and they strive to attain the best based on the constraints of their circumstances or their motives and expected benefits. As such, people will strive to learn, develop novel tools, including political or social institutions, to transform their world to do good or evil driven by short-term or long-term views based on the available opportunities.
When contentious politics is examined, then public collective action and social movements, which are seen as constant threats to the elite, emerge. Consequently, strategies, norms, identities, and values constantly evolve, and actors shape them to counter emerging threats, including wars (Boix and Stokes 435).
Free riding is one of the best known challenges of collective action. It denotes that some individuals often fail to contribute toward group efforts since they exploit contributions from other members (Vanni 25). This challenge is specifically noted when collective action occurs with the goal of public good initiatives because outcome benefits of public good cannot be restricted to only persons who engaged in collective action. Likewise, as mentioned above in the social structure, other factors related to trust, reputation, and solid support are equally relevant factors in controlling free riding (Vanni 25).
The problem of transaction cost also emerges. In this case, transaction cost problem is normally noted in the initial phase of the initiation of any collective action. In fact, transaction costs tend to be relatively higher than in individual actions (Vanni 26). As such, the transaction problem presents considerable implications when policies are being effected to drive collective agendas for public good because of high costs associated with search actions, for instance, identification of potential services with mutual gains (search costs), costs related to negotiation and agreement (bargain costs), and costs associated with evaluation and enforcement of activities.
It is imperative to understand that further costs are necessary to make collective action successful, and notably, benefits associated with collective action usually accounts for such costs due to scope and economies of scale realized (Vanni 26). Further, it is possible to maximize the benefits of collective action if players adopt the most suitable institutional structures, and the functional implications of social capital are reinforced because of influences of social networks, supports, and trust among agents.
In conclusion, the problems associated with collective action are numerous. For instance, they are deeply rooted in social structures and human behaviors. Additionally, free riding and transaction costs are equally important issues in understanding challenges of collective action, as well as trust, coordination and finding a common ground for mutual benefits to all players.
Boix, Carles and Susan Carol Stokes, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Orvis, Stephen and Carol Ann Drogus. Introducing Comparative Politics: Concepts and Cases in Context. CQ Press, 2015.
Vanni, Francesco. Agriculture and Public Goods: The Role of Collective Action. Springer Science & Business Media, 2014.