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Inventing the Ties That BindImagined Relationships in Moral and Political Life$
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Francesca Polletta

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226734170

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734347.001.0001

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Free-Riders and Freedom Riders

Free-Riders and Freedom Riders

(p.33) Chapter Two Free-Riders and Freedom Riders
Inventing the Ties That Bind

Francesca Polletta

University of Chicago Press

Social movement scholars have argued that solidary ties help to overcome the famous free-rider dilemma, the fact that it is irrational to participate even when one has stakes in the movement’s success. Thus in the civil rights movement, black southerners’ obligations to ministers and church members who supported the movement led them also to participate. But what happened where kin and congregation counseled against participation? This chapter explores how organizers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sought to mobilize in the context of severe repression. Where organizers were successful in competing with people’s preexisting ties, it was by drawing on imagined relationships: on the obligations of “first-class” citizenship (although the rights of such citizenship were not honored by the state), the obligations of membership in a national movement (although for those living in the rural areas of the Deep South, the movement was remote), the obligations of parenthood (to young organizers who were not their children), and the obligations of leadership (although it meant defying the counsel of recognized leaders). Direct ties with particular others sometimes must be replaced by imagined ties with general others in order for solidary action to take place.

Keywords:   civil rights movement, solidarity, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, free rider problem, mobilizing structures, collective identity

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