The Origins of Collective Decision Making


In The Origins of Collective Decision Making, Andy Blunden identifies three paradigms of collective decision making – Counsel, Majority and Consensus, discovers their origins in traditional, medieval and modern times, and traces their evolution over centuries up to the present. The study reveals that these three paradigms have an ethical foundation, deeply rooted in historical experiences. The narrative takes the reader into the very moments when individual leaders and organisers made the crucial developments in white heat of critical moments in history, such as the English Revolution of the 1640s, the Chartist Movement of the 1840s and the early Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This history provides a valuable resource for resolving current social movement conflict over decision making.
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Biographical Note

Andy Blunden is an editor of the journal Mind, Culture, and Activity and Secretary of the Marxists Internet Archive. He published with Brill: An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity (2010), Concepts: A Critical Approach (2012) and Collaborative Projects: An Interdisciplinary Study (2014).

Review Quotes

Blunden’s book which ranges across a much wider range of example in the context of consensus and majority voting decision making methods, provides a very useful and insightful comparative historical tool. [...] Blunden’s though provoking book deserves to be read by anyone involved in trying to change the world for the better.
- Keith Flett, in LSHG Newsletter, No. 63 (Spring 2018) and No. 64 (Summer 2018)

"Blunden’s fascination with the mechanics of group decision making is contagious, and, more important, his attention to the transmission of decision making practices allows him to show the contexts in which majority and consensus practices have each been adopted. That relationship between practices and their contexts turns out to be crucial."
- Geoffrey Kurtz (Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY), in Logos, Vol 16, Nos. 1-2 (Spring 2017)

"Andy Blunden's The Origins of Collective Decision Making (2016) is driven by his observation that participants in twenty-first century protest movements and organisations try to work together without understanding what others perceive as the right way to reach agreement on how to pursue common cause. He identifies the significant clash as between those accustomed to making majority decisions and the advocates of consensus. Blunden's argument is that by understanding the origins of each other's assumptions about how to make decisions, it will be easier for those on the left to work together. For Blunden, decision-making methods matter."
- Bridget Leach, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Greenwich, London, in International Critical Thought, 2017, pp. 1-4

“Blunden’s examination of various instances pays close attention to the primary sources, which are contextualised through a class analysis of the changing historical circumstances. [...] Even the most iconoclastic activists seldom reflect on the origins and implications of their mode of decision-making. This stimulating book encourages them to do so.”
- Stuart MacIntyre (University of Melbourne), in Labour History, No. 112 (May 2017)

“Andy Blunden seeks to uncover the history of how people have arrived at decisions on a shared course of action to achieve common goals. Along the way, he provides interesting and sometimes surprising case studies of collectivity”
- Steph Marston, in Marx & Philosophy. Review of books

“Blunden provides us with a grounding from which to pursue these matters [...] there is a clarity and simplicity to the exposition that befits its subject’s inclusive ambition."
- Maher Mughrabi in Arena Magazine, No. 149, August 2017, pp. 52-54

“You will find out within the pages of Andy Blunden’s lucidly written, thoughtful, scrupulously researched, and fascinating book on the topic. God (that wonderful lady) is in the details here, and the details should be savoured.”
- Bonnie Nardi in Interface. A journal for and about social movements, Vol 9(1)

“For anyone who is working within an organization, trying to build a coalition, or make a collective decision making process more effective, this book will both clarify your thinking and give you pause.”
- Helena Worthen¸ in Journal of Labour and Society, Vol. 19(4)

Table of contents


Collective Decision Making
Realist Historical Investigation

The British Trade Unions in 1824
Anglo-Saxon England
The Guilds
The Methodist Church
London Corresponding Society
The Chartists
The Communist Secret Societies
The General Workers Unions
The End of Uncritical Majoritarianism

English Revolution and the Quakers
The Quakers in Twentieth Century Pennsylvania
New England Town Meetings
The Peace and Civil Rights Movements
Myles Horton and the Highlander
The African and Slave Roots of the Black Baptist Churches
Eleanor Garst and Women Strike for Peace
The Quakers and Movement for a New Society
Anarchism and Decision Making

The Negation of Social Movements
The Negation of Negation ‒ the rise of alliance politics
Alliance politics



Social movement activists, from anarchists to self-help groups and churches to socialist groups. Academics in social movements, labour movement history, deliberative democracy; undergraduates in sociology, political science, organisational psychology, modern history.


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