Corporate Collective Action

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= the capacity to create self-governed autonomous institutions


Tine De Moor:


"‘‘Corporate collective action’’ is here considered the concept best suited to describe the exclusive, self-governed autonomous institutions that formed the core of the silent revolution, which depended on the idea that a group of people could form a legal body, a universitas, a concept developed during the ‘‘legal revolution’’ of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.55 What made corporate collective action markedly distinct from collective action in general was its degree of institutionalization, with group formation processes accompanied by the design of a set of rules to make collective action work, usually written down and regularly revised. After all, it was not because people once decided to act together that they would keep doing so thereafter, and go on later to develop rules and procedures to govern their institutions and, for example, suppress free riding.

Such a degree of institutionalization marks a clear difference from shorter-term collective action.


The institutions of the silent revolution on the other hand are almost always exclusively based on the definition of a ‘‘club’’, to which some belong and from which others are excluded. This ‘‘identifiability’’ of the members of the club encourages the reciprocity and mutual control needed for the long-term survival of the group." (


"Cooperative behaviour within a group, of craftsmen or commoners, and respect for the resources of the group, was expected from its current members. In several charters it was apparent that members would be working for the wellbeing of the institution, thus implicitly ascertaining the importance of sustainable management of its resources. Given Mancur Olson’s remark that ‘‘rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interest’’, we may suppose that the ambitions of our medieval ancestors seem highly unrealistic.61 Their method of resolving their social dilemma was to set up institutions for exclusive groups: institutionalization secures continuity, exclusion secures feasibility by allowing in only those with at least a minimal interest in keeping the institution going. Whereas sudden, short-lived collective action benefits from attracting as many participants as possible, sustained collective action tries to limit the number of participants.

Institutions limited the number of people who could become members by setting clear access rules, and guilds and commons alike wanted to differentiate insiders from outsiders, to set boundaries to the group and to the use of its resources by means of a set of rules that could be expanded or reduced according to the needs of the moment. Rules could include limitation of access to the group by means of various requirements such as financial resources or a ‘‘waiting period’’ as for apprenticeships. To avoid overproduction, maximum output quota could be set by the commoners and guild members to guard the local market against competition from farmers and non-guild artisans respectively." (