This paper concerns itself with the general problem of achieving cooperation in human groups and higher levels of social systems. Several social situations are considered where cooperation is problematic because self-interest contradicts group or collective interest: the prisoners' dilemma game; the commons' problem (Hardin, 1972); the collective action problem, i.e., the failure of memberships of many large interest groups, e.g., consumers and the general public, to cooperate to achieve common goals (Olson, 1968); and the problem of competitive panics, e.g., a crowd in a burning theater. We introduce a structural framework and methodology, using social system level concepts, to characterize and analyze such problems. It is shown that the various cases have a common underlying structure. In the analysis, we focus on the social context of the problematic situations and, in particular, on social processes that structure human interaction and collective behavior. A basic idea guiding the analysis is that actors purposively structure and transform interaction situations or games into situations of greater or less cooperation or conflict, depending upon the social context. We examine specific social control processes that may be found operating in social systems to resolve problems of achieving cooperative action, that is, to deal with contradictions between individual interests and autonomy on the one hand and group interest and need for cooperative action on the other. In particular, we focus on the social structuring and restructuring in groups of perceptions and evaluations, action possibilities, and decision procedures and, therefore, likely interaction patterns of those involved.
1974. Vol. 19, no 5, 277-297 p.