Collective action with uncertain payoffs: Coordination, public signals, and punishment dilemmas

Mehdi Shadmehr, Dan Bernhardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How can one analyze collective action in protests or revolutions when individuals are uncertain about the relative payoffs of the status quo and revolution? We model a "calculus of protest" of individuals who must either submit to the status quo or support revolt based only on personal information about their payoffs. In deciding whether to revolt, the citizen must infer both the benefit of successful revolution and the likely actions of other citizens. We characterize conditions under which payoff uncertainty overturns conventional wisdom: (a) when a citizen is too willing to revolt, he reduces the incentives of others to revolt; (b) less accurate information about the value of revolution can make revolt more likely; (c) public signals from other citizens can reduce the likelihood of revolt; (d) harsher punishment can increase the incidence of punishment; and (e) the incidence of protest can be positively correlated with that of repression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-851
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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