Collective Action

Collective action means an action taken together by a group of people with the same common goal. In a complex system, the collective behaviour is not just the sum of individual behaviours, because the collective effects can feed back to the individual level. This is nowhere more crucial than in problems of collective action.

We’ll start by looking at a local version of the problem in what has become known as the ‘tragedy of the commons’, where individuals act independently in their own self-interests, contrary to the benefit of the larger group. We’ll provide another illustration of the problem of coordinated action with the example of the prisoner’s dilemma,

To translate these ideas into the context of sustainability we’ll look at ideas of values and of the context (or ‘frames’) within which we situate our values. To set the background for sustainability as an issue that extends beyond country boundaries we’ll look briefly at the recent history of globalisation.

We’ll follow this with one example of the tragedy of the commons in fishing and the sea. This provides an example where we can point both to tragedy and adaptation through collective action. Finally we’ll look at UN sustainable development goals in the context of collective actions.

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