The Macalester Review


Mancur Olson's free rider problem suggests that self-interested individuals would be more rational to abstain from rather than participate in collective action. This possibility is particularly problematic for social movement theories attempting to account for movement emergence. In this essay, I critique resource mobilization theory's solution to Olson's problem, arguing that its "elite support hypothesis" cannot account for the emergence of entirely grassroots movements. However, through an analysis of the Bolivian Water War, I ultimately suggest that resource mobilization theory can be salvaged. I claim that a distinction between "vertical" and "horizontal" organizations allows resource mobilization theory to maintain its solution to Olson’s free-rider problem and account for the Bolivian case.