Self-organized citizens’ initiatives are a form of collective action and contribute to society through the production of public goods and services. Traditional collective action theory predicts that such initiatives are near impossible because of the persistent problems of free-riding. Citizens’ initiatives however do exist and function properly, and their numbers seem to be increasing in countries such as the Netherlands. This article argues that free-riding problems can be overcome when some form of exclusivity is arranged in citizens’ initiatives. We assume that citizens’ initiatives use active and/or passive strategies to limit free-riding behaviour. Using three illustrative cases, our research shows that position rules, boundary rules, and authority rules are used in a subtle and often implicit way to differentiate the level of influence and authority between the more and the less committed members, enabling collective action. Such rules, though advantageous, may be paradoxical to the goals of the citizens’ initiatives and can undermine the virtues associated with them.

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Keywords boundary rules, citizens’ initiatives, collective action, exclusivity, public goods
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Journal Journal of Civil Society
Blok, S.N, van Buuren, M.W, & Fenger, H.J.M. (2020). Exclusivity of citizens’ initiatives: Fuel for collective action?. Journal of Civil Society. doi:10.1080/17448689.2020.1794168