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Positive Feedback in Collective Mobilization: The American Strike Wave of 1886

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  • Michael Biggs

    (Department of Sociology and Nuffield College, University of Oxford)

Abstract

Formal models prove the possibility of positive feedback in collective action; the metaphors of historically minded observers convey the same insight. It is still neglected in the literature on social movements, which emphasizes exogenous factors—above all, political opportunities—rather than endogenous processes. This paper draws on an intensive investigation of strikes for the eight-hour day in Chicago in May 1886. It demonstrates that changes in economic and political circumstances cannot explain the magnitude of the strike wave. More importantly, it provides evidence for positive feedback in collective mobilization, showing how optimistic expectations percolated through the working class in the spring of 1886. As each new group of workers became hopeful enough to organize, the fact of their organization inspired other groups to follow suit. New hopes gave rise to new organization; new organization became evidence that such hopes were justified.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Biggs, 2001. "Positive Feedback in Collective Mobilization: The American Strike Wave of 1886," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _040, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_040
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    File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/2276/40biggs2.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Regina Grafe & Camilla Brautaset, 2006. "The Quiet Transport Revolution: Returns to Scale, Scope and Network Density in Norway`s Nineteenth-Century Sailing Fleet," Economics Series Working Papers 2006-W62, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    2. Guillaume Daudin, 2008. "Domestic Trade and Market Size in Late Eighteenth-Century France," Economics Series Working Papers 69, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. J.Humphries & T. Leunig, 2007. "Cities, Market Integration and Going to Sea: Stunting and the standard of living in early nineteenth-century England and Wales," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _066, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    4. Mohammad Niaz Asadullah, 2006. "Educational Disparity in East and West Pakistan, 1947–71: Was East Pakistan Discriminated Against?," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _063, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    5. repec:oxf:wpaper:69.2 is not listed on IDEAS

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