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Violence, Self-Worth, Solidarity and Stigma: How a Dissident, Far-Right Group Solves the Collective Action Problem

politcal-studiesJournal abstract

How do dissident, far-right groups overcome the collective action problem inherent to political organisation in order to recruit sufficient activists willing to bear the costs of participation and not free-ride on the participation of others? An original ethnographic study of the UK anti-Islamic street protest organisation, the English Defence League, shows that it solved the collective action problem by supplying selective incentives to members in the form of the club goods of access to violence, increased self-worth and group solidarity. These benefits were offset against the costs of stigma, time, money and unwanted police attention that also accompanied English Defence League membership. The personal benefits the English Defence League provided to its members enabled it to supply what Mancur Olson has termed the first unit of collective action, but limited its ability to supply the additional units required to build a broader, more mainstream movement.