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SOCI 386 Lecture Notes - Alexis De Tocqueville, Collective Identity, Rape Culture

Sociology (Arts)
Course Code
SOCI 386
Marcos Ancelovici

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Jan 21st
Free Rider Problem- Olson
Rational Choice perspective
- Assumes people have a clear and stable ranking of preferences and that they know what
they want
- Problem begins with the goal of SMs- they generally aim at collective goods like
democracy or the environment, so that everyone gets the benefits regardless of
whether they participate
- Since the benefits do not depend on your individual actions, there is no incentive
(almost a disincentive) to participate
- Olson claims the nature of SMs hinders rational participation in SMs (SMs as inherently
- As the group gets bigger, there is less and less incentive to participate (what about the
threshold dynamic?)
- Olson presents a puzzle- what fosters participation?
- He says that small groups, through peer pressure and the feeling of dependence/feeling
that your participation has genuine influence on the collective, as well as selective
incentives will foster participation (formal organizations using material incentives to
motivate people and override free rider logic)
Critique of Olson
- What is rationality, really? Is it really a cost/benefit analysis? We often don’t know what
the costs and benefits are going to be before we act so how would rationality be
assessed then?
- What about non-material incentives?
- Even small group conditions with selective incentives sometimes fail to mobilize people
- Neglects structuring effect of institutions, social networks, and the professionalization of
organizations (sometimes people become involved in SMs just for a job)
- Assumes movements are inherently irrational in their mass sense (Olson is a dick)-
dismisses collective action so he doesn’t have to explain it (Olson is also lazy)
- During a decade in which SMs were widespread, Olson tried to explain why they were
unlikely to occur (what is even the point of you)
Meyer/Tarrow would claim that SMs have become normalized and that they are no longer
In the late 90s, there is a shift in how police deal with protestors, from a strategy of negotiated
management to strategic incapacitation (arresting a few people to neutralize the most radical
before they can influence others and cause significant damage- figure out who is the most
radical by infiltrating SM groups)
Alternative explanations to Olson’s (instrumental rationality)
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Collective Behaviour Theories
- Durkheim, Park, and Blumer
- Focus on strains- when there is a wave of social disruption which affects the ability of
society to integrate people, there will be a breakdown of society (social structures etc.)
which puts strain on individuals
- To compensate for the breakdown of the system, people engage in collective action to
reconstruct society in ways which foster coordination and social integration
Mass Society Theory
- A variant of the above
- Social changes uproot people from their support environment (i.e. urbanization moves
people from a highly integrated society to a society with low integration, which causes
people to feel lonely and alienated, which leads to extreme behaviour)
- Theory emerged as a way to explain the rise of facism and the question of maintaining
social order
Relative Deprivation Theory
- Tocqueville, Smelser, GURR
- Believe it is not a problem of integration, but of expectations (gap between expectations
and actual achievements)
- Gap can manifest itself as: 1) expectations stable, but satisfaction with the expectations
declines (i.e. blue collar workers want to buy houses and have families, unemployment
causes them to become anti-immigration); 2) expectations are raised but nothing
happens ; 3) expectations and conditions rise, then conditions start to decline (i.e.
women’s movements where expectations are raised after a period of immense change,
but income inequality and rape culture still persist)
- So, deprivation depends on your reference group (i.e. white women’s reference group is
white men- better off than Latin American women, but that is not their reference group
so they are not satisfied with 70 cents to every white man’s dollar)
- Feeling of deprivation+ a precipitating factor+ leadership= collective action
- Relative deprivation is always present in society and fails to mobilize people most of the
time- if this theory were true, SMs would be happening everywhere all the time
- Even when SMs occur, it doesn’t explain why some within the deprived group mobilize
while others don’t
- While strain may be a necessary condition for mobilization, it is not sufficient
- Assumes marginalized groups just want what others have (what about SMs that want to
change the entire system, not just redistribute stuff? i.e. feminists who want equal pay
and feminists who urge for a restructuring of society to dismantle the global patriarchy)
- Has a narrow conception of grievances- strain is not always necessary for a SM to occur
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