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Robert Holahan and Mark Lubell

Collective action dilemmas, wherein short-term rewards from individual action trump larger long-term rewards from cooperation, are ubiquitous features of social interaction. From classical philosophers like Aristotle to modern political economists, scholars have been interested in understanding the root causes of these dilemmas and finding solutions that encourage cooperative behavior. Frequently, solutions take the form of institutions that alter incentives and make cooperative outcomes individually beneficial. This chapter provides a review of collective action theory and highlights a number of empirical research traditions across disciplines. Theoretical topics explored include the philosophical origins of collective action theory, the development of modern political economy as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, and the application of game theory to complex social problems. Empirical topics discussed include the use of case studies developed through field research and the findings of increasingly complex economic experiments. Throughout, we utilize the tools of the new institutional economics to explore and explain past traditions of research and future opportunities.