A Status Theory of Collective Action


Here I present a theory of collective action that emphasizes the role of status. I argue that collective action contributions earn individuals improved status by signaling their concern for the group's welfare relative to their own. Having received greater prestige for their contributions to group goals, individuals’ actual motivation to help the group is increased, leading to greater subsequent contributions to group efforts and greater feelings of group solidarity. This “virtuous cycle” of costly contributions to group efforts and enhanced standing in the group shows one way in which individuals’ prosocial behaviors are socially constructed, a consequence of individuals’ basic concern for what others think of them. I discuss a variety of issues related to the theory, including its scope of application, theoretical implications, relationship to alternative models of reputation and prosocial behavior, possible practical applications, and directions for future research.