Rational choice and collective action in an Andean community
Froemming, Steven John
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This thesis explores the value of rational choice theory in the explanation of social action in an Andean village in rural Cusco, Peru. The research on which it is based has been motivated by the question, "How do agropastoralists resolve collective action problems in securing access to productive resources and in producing public works?" I collected my data in a 225-household Quechua village in the Urubamba range of Peru from 1989--1991. I identify collective action situations and problems in the community, consider the motivations and beliefs underlying individual action, describe the group decision-making processes, leadership structure, sanctioning system, and other conventions and institutions governing community relations, record the pattern of interaction between community members in agropastoral production and public works, and document the outcomes of these interactions. I discuss a variety of collective action situations, including communal work parties, household assessments and taxation, gifts of animals to nonkin, service in civil-religious offices, boundary maintenance rituals, theft, and mutual aid. I present data on the level of participation in communal projects, the factors that contribute to decisions to participate in and avoid collective action, the role that theft plays in limiting productive investments, and the role of opportunity, information, and enforcement costs in determining the success of collective projects. Among my findings is that participation in community assemblies, communal work parties, and village tax assessments is neither universal nor optimal even when it is obligatory, and that this can be partially related a failure to solve collective action problems in sanctioning. I provide the framework, data, and analysis to show that a rational choice perspective can make a solid contribution to sorting out the issues and explaining a variety of behaviors and cultural features in the Andes. Rational choice theory is inherently incomplete, and a variety of mechanisms operating on different dimensions and at proximate and ultimate levels of explanation are required to understand social phenomena. I hope that this study inspires further work on how intentional, causal, and functional explanation can be fit into a broader theoretical framework.
- Anthropology