BARCELONA´S INDIGNATS ONE YEAR ON – Discussing Olson’s Logic of Collective Action
In 1965 Mancur Olson wrote one of the most influential books on collective action: The Logic of Collective Action. Written in the midst of the decade that saw collective contentious politics buzzing and blooming in many places around the globe his book, paradoxically focused on how unlikely group action is. He argued that rational actors, driven by economic self-interest, might well avoid taking action when they see others willing to take it for them (i.e. rational actors might opt to “free ride”). Both the size and the composition of the group were key variables in Olson’s claim. He suggested that large groups are more prone to free riding and that socially heterogeneous groups hamper agreements and consensus (e.g. over the nature or amount of the collective good) and make selective incentives more limited since they depend on social interaction.
The indignats in Barcelona were a massive mobilization (at some critical junctures over 10.000 people met at Plaça Catalunya) and a profoundly heterogeneous one. Hence, their experience presents itself as a great opportunity to discuss Olson’s logic and move towards more comprehensive understandings of the why and the how of social mobilization.
(i) Dealing with heterogeneity
In the movement [15M/Indignats] I found a space to share my indignation with others who, despite coming from quite different backgrounds and having quite different particular interests, share my indignation.
Protester at Plaça Catalunya (# 14)
May, 2011. Barcelona, Spain
(Images taken from publico.es & sahararesiste.blogspot.com)
 All references to Olson are based on two of his main books: The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (1965) and The Rise and Decline of Nations (1982), and on the presentation of his work by McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly in the book chapter “Towards an Integrated Perspective on Social Movements and Revolutions” (1997).
 Indignats is the Catalan word for Spanish indignados. In English it refers to those who are in indignation.