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From Local Advantage to Global Repression: A Theory of Denunciation

Location: Knox Hall, Room 208

It has long been observed that centralized social control requires some level of cooperation from the populace. Without such assistance, control agents are unable to acquire the local knowledge necessary to locate and prosecute deviants. Yet why citizens cooperate with authorities, especially in the most repressive regimes, remains a puzzle. This paper develops two models of such cooperation: in one model the authorities use coercion to elicit denunciations from the populace, whereas in the other the institutional environment is structured in such a way that individuals voluntarily participate. In this latter case, individuals “cooperate” in order to subvert the power of the state and achieve local advantage within their communities. Using internal variation in the early years of the Spanish Inquisition (1486-1502) and Romanov Russia (1613-1649), I demonstrate the differing effects of each model on patterns of denunciations. Somewhat paradoxically, the system that affords individuals the greatest freedom ultimately results in the most effective form of social control.


Patrick Bergemann is a Post-Doctoral Research Scholar at the Columbia Business School. He received his PhD in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University.