Responsibility-driven collective action in the context of rapid rural depopulation

Pingyang Liu, Ye Zhao, Neil Ravenscroft, Marie K. Harder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


China has witnessed unprecedented and rapid urbanization which has led to the depopulation and structural collapse of many traditional rural village communities, and the decline of many collective functions such as the effective management of the public realm. In seeking to address this problem it is clear from the literature that there is considerable potential in catalyzing collective action, particularly where there is a moral imperative to act and the availability of leaders with the ability to organize the collective. However, while there is evidence that community-based collective action has provided effective localized solution pathways for managing col- lective goods when the focus has been on the distribution of benefits, there is little evidence about its potential in scenarios associated with the distribution of costs, or responsibilities. In addressing this asymmetry, we present a case study of a typical village near Shanghai which has successfully established a community based environ- mental management system, and describe the process, characteristics and influencing factors of its responsi- bility-centered collective action. Our findings show that smart local leadership, an effective organizing strategy, and involvement of a suitable ‘core group’ was crucial. The strategy of mobilizing this core group, of empowering them with decision-making rights, and supporting their volunteered role as a ‘bridge and platform’ connecting the village cadres and villagers, significantly reduced the enforcement and monitoring costs, controlled free rider problems, and gained public support and participation, leading to a stable and sustainable solution. Our findings illustrate specific principles that apply to many cases in China, and general principles that are likely to be applicable more widely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2020


  • Distribution of responsibility
  • Rural depopulation
  • Collective action
  • Rural environmental management
  • Elderly party member


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