Rationality, Trust, and Collective Action: Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

  • Carolina Curvale FLACSO


How did a group of mothers of youngsters who had been illegally detained and murdered by Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship, manage to organize and protest during this period of severe state repression? Under what conditions would a rational individual choose to risk her life by engaging in collective activities subjected to the free rider problem? Combining the insights of a step public goods model and the encapsulated-interest theory of trust, I show that in spite of the high levels of uncertainty and risk involved in participation, collective action was possible given credible mutual commitments inherent in participation, and due to the provision of selective incentives to the members. These findings are con- firmed by later developments: once a democratic transition ocurred and the risk and uncertainty levels diminished, the group split into two different associations.


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