The phenomenon of collective action and the origin of collective action problems have been extensively and systematically studied in the social sciences. Yet, while we have substantial knowledge about the factors promoting collective action at the local level, we know far less about how these insights travel to large-scale collective action problems. Such problems, however, are at the heart of humanity’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, large-scale natural resource depletion, biodiversity loss, nuclear proliferation, antibiotic resistance due to overconsumption of antibiotics, and pollution. In this paper, we suggest an analytical framework that captures the theoretical understanding of preconditions for large-scale collective action. This analytical framework aims at supporting future empirical analyses of how to cope with and overcome larger-scale collective action problems. More specifically, we (i) define and describe the main characteristics of a large-scale collective action problem and (ii) explain why voluntary and, in particular, spontaneous large-scale collective action among individual actors becomes more improbable as the collective action problem becomes larger, thus demanding interventions by an external authority (a third party) for such action to be generated. Based on this, we (iii) outline an analytical framework that illustrates the connection between third-party interventions and large-scale collective action. We conclude by suggesting avenues for future research.
- Global commons
- Large-scale collective action
- Social dilemmas