Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies: Evidence from Russia's Great Reforms

Forthcoming, American Political Science Review

72 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2016 Last revised: 17 Sep 2017

See all articles by Paul Castañeda Dower

Paul Castañeda Dower

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Evgeny Finkel

Johns Hopkins SAIS

Scott Gehlbach

University of Chicago

Steven Nafziger

Williams College

Date Written: September 6, 2017


We explore the relationship between capacity for collective action and representation in autocracies with data from Imperial Russia. Our primary empirical exercise relates peasant representation in new institutions of local self-government to the frequency of peasant unrest in the decade prior to reform. To correct for measurement error in the unrest data and other sources of endogeneity, we exploit idiosyncratic variation in two determinants of peasant unrest: the historical incidence of serfdom and religious polarization. We find that peasants were granted less representation in districts with more frequent unrest in preceding years — a relationship consistent with the Acemoglu-Robinson model of political transitions and inconsistent with numerous other theories of institutional change. At the same time, we observe patterns of redistribution in subsequent years that are inconsistent with the commitment mechanism central to the Acemoglu-Robinson model. Building on these results, we discuss possible directions for future theoretical work.

Suggested Citation

Castañeda Dower, Paul and Finkel, Evgeny and Gehlbach, Scott and Nafziger, Steven, Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies: Evidence from Russia's Great Reforms (September 6, 2017). Forthcoming, American Political Science Review, Available at SSRN: or

Paul Castañeda Dower (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin-Madison ( email )

Madison, WI 53705

Evgeny Finkel

Johns Hopkins SAIS ( email )

1740 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1984
United States

Scott Gehlbach

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Steven Nafziger

Williams College ( email )

Williamstown, MA 01267
United States

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