May, 2015

Culture as a Solution to Estonia's 'Singing Revolution'

An Extended Rational Choice Model
  • Olga Nicoara

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Does culture play a role in successful revolutionary collective action? In rational choice theory revolutionary movements are paradoxical because each potential revolutionary faces a "participation problem", and a "first mover or leadership problem." In previous rational choice models, revolutions succeed where participants deliberately designed institutions that increased individuals' incentive to participate. This paper extends the framework of the existing rational choice models to account for the role of culture in each participant's cost-benefit calculation of revolutionary participation. I explore the case of The Singing Revolution in late 1980's Soviet Estonia, and find that ethnic Estonians used ostracism, and their ancient cultural traditions and beliefs to overcome the two collective action problems when they successfully organized mass singing protests against the Soviet regime in the summer of 1988.

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