Mapping the Production and Mobilization Functions of Collective Action

Blaine G. Robbins, Ross L. Matsueda, Steven J. Pfaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Collective action is a fundamental feature of human social life. If public goods are to materialize, social norms are to emerge, and social protests are to succeed, individuals must act jointly to achieve their collective ends. But how can collective action evolve when individuals receive the benefits of a common good without contributing to its production? According to theories of the critical mass, the success of collective action hinges on the type of production function required for the provision of a common good. Production functions and mobilization functions, however, have proven difficult to observe empirically in large groups. Here, the authors report results from a factorial survey experiment administered to a disproportionate stratified random sample of undergraduate students (n = 880) that required respondents to rate their perceptions of and intentions to participate in a hypothetical student protest. Results show that the population-average production and mobilization functions are decelerating, but individual heterogeneity is observed around the population averages. Moreover, the experiment demonstrates that latent class trajectories of production and mobilization functions, rather than population-level consensus or complete individual heterogeneity, exist in the population. The authors show that the majority of latent class trajectories are decelerating, while a minority are linear or relatively constant. The authors find that subjective interest in the common good and attitudes toward protest predict membership in latent class trajectories. Importantly, the authors provide evidence for the predictive validity of their estimates. The authors discuss the implications of these results for theories of the critical mass and for promoting collective action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2020


  • collective action
  • factorial survey experiment
  • hierarchical growth curve model
  • latent class growth analysis
  • mobilization function
  • production function
  • student protest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Mapping the Production and Mobilization Functions of Collective Action'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this