GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences: Go to homepage

48.3 - Collective Agency

Special Issue – Johannes Marx & Thomas Gehring (Eds.): The Emergence and Effects of Non-hierarchical Collective Agency.

The emergence of collective agency in non-hierarchical groups is a puzzling phenomenon. It has thus far attracted little systematic scholarly attention, despite its widespread existence in and high relevance for modern political and social life. While bureaucracies or business firms with hierarchical internal structures are widely recognized as collective actors, groups without formal hierarchy may also gain collective agency, e.g., parliamentary committees adopt proposals and international institutions decide on international regulations. In the social sciences, it is highly disputed whether these expressions can be understood literally. Analytical philosophy and sociology offer a number of approaches to the emergence of collective agency from the interaction of group members. They challenge the broadly shared methodological individualist assumption that only individuals can act and that talk about group actors should be understood only metaphorically.

This HSR Special Issue examines theoretical, empirical, and normative issues of collective agency of groups in the absence of hierarchy. It aims to elucidate the mechanisms driving non-hierarchical collective agency and to develop empirically-applicable conceptions of collective actors, their actions, and their effects. It is designed to advance scholarly dialogue around collective agency, while helping to bridge the gap between the philosophical debate about collective agency and its empirical application in the social sciences. The articles in this HSR Special Issue draw on and elaborate important theoretical approaches from analytical philosophy that examine the formation and consequences of collective intentions in small and unorganized groups and elucidate basic mechanisms of the emergence of collective intentions. They address collective agency of institutionalized groups with defined memberships, including member-driven international institutions, parliaments and their committees, and local government associations. These articles examine the emergence of collective intentions and collective action capability of large and non-institutionalized groups from a sociological perspective, and they deal with normative issues of collective agency.