Collective Control (or efficacy): how to spark social action

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2009 at 10:20 am

O.k. so it’s premature to say collective control is the spark for large scale direct social action, but I am convinced it’s important.

In some of my research around birrit, I have been exploring what are the unique group dynamics and individual thoughts/perceptions which drive large numbers of people to engage in direct action.  Much has been written about the role of a concept called “social capital” defined as the collective value of all ‘social networks‘ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.  This concept was made popular by  Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone.  In his book, he wrote: “Henry Ward Beecher’s advice a century ago to ‘multiply picnics’ is not entirely ridiculous today. We should do this, ironically, not because it will be good for America — though it will be — but because it will be good for us.” Putnam is not suggesting here that we must expand an already stable level of networking and civil interaction. He has found an overall decline in social capital in America over the past fifty years, a trend that may have significant implications for American society.

While Social capital is an important concept, it is difficult to measure and I believe only part of the solution.  I think equal or perhaps more important is the concept of collective control and it’s related construct collective efficacy.  Not much exist in way of easily digestable information, most of the analysis is still academic and can be found research publications, here are a few:

Exercise of Human Agency Through Collective Efficacy

Collective Efficacy Earls

PersonCenteredSociology–Collective Control

Strangely enough, I did my undergraduate degree in psychology and conducted some of the early research around collective control with Professor Stephen Wright. So I’ll borrow a bit from one of our reseach briefs (strangely I still have a hardcopy).

Collective Control: The impact of Discrimination on Perceived Group-Level Control.

“A condition of collective control exists where the individual perceives the situation as one in which control is possible, and that the required behaviors are beyond the capacity of a single individual, but are within the capacities of a group to which the individual belongs.”

(Sounds like a pretty important component in understanding how to increase citizen-led direction action….)

The study goes on to say: “This important group component was initial explored with the concept of collective efficacy. Bandura (1996) argued that people have a sense of collective efficacy, that they can solve problems and improve their lives through concerted effort”

Why we should be thinking more about this vs. social capital:  Collective control is a core construct at play when groups form to tackle a shared challenge or opportunity.  Collective control serves as a useful tool in satisfying the strong need for control in situations where personal control is not possible and to avoid the negative consequences of uncontrolability.  Our ability to understand how this plays out when people organize online and interacte via online social networks is an important element to driving more and more effective citizen-led activism.

I’ll be share more about collective efficacy in the months to come.


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