rational choice theory

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rational choice theory

a relatively formal approach to sociological and social science theorizing (e.g. drawing upon the THEORY OF GAMES notion of STRATEGIC INTERACTION and ECONOMICS), in which it is maintained that social life is principally capable of explanation as the outcome of the ‘rational choices’ of individual actors.

‘When faced with several courses of action, people usually do what they believe is likely to have the best overall outcome. This deceptively simple sentence summarizes the theory of rational choice’ (Elster, 1989). It is a form of theorizing characterized by the use of technically rigorous models of social behaviour, which seek to derive robust conclusions from a relatively small number of initial theoretical assumptions about ‘rational behaviour’.

Rational choice theories have been in vogue over the last two decades, prompted by dissatisfaction with macroscopic and structural models in some circles but also by an increased centrality for the rhetoric of individual rational choice in many areas in economic and political life. Despite its often impressive formal architecture, and its undoubted value in illuminating some areas of social reality, two important limitations of rational choice theory can be noted (see Hollis, 1987):

  1. its relative lack of success in overcoming numerous technical difficulties (e.g. a regress in actors’ expectations concerning the actions of others), which limit its formal rigour and undermine the direct applicability of its models;
  2. an association with positivist and pragmatist epistemologies, which has limited its attention to analysis of action located in norm-guided, rule-following and rule-changing social behaviour. see also EXCHANGE THEORY.
References in periodicals archive ?
MIT Press (Cambridge, MA) has published "Heuristics and the Law," a clothbound book that accepts that neither lawbreakers nor law officers behave as the "hyper-rational beings postulated by rational choice," MIT said, and that our environment is fundamentally uncertain and characterized by an unmanageable degree of complexity.
Work by Phillips (1997) suggests that "true reasoning" as referenced by Parson's is further delineated into two basic types of career decision making models; (a) rational choice models and (b) alternative-to-rational choice models.
The contributors to this volume seek general explanations, or theory, which they distinguish from the universalist claims of game theory and rational choice analysis.
12) This subtle change reflected the rational choice concept within the framework of the routine activity theory.
It may be obvious now, but it has been invisible rather than obvious (both to rational choice theorists and to marketers) until now.
Rational Choice and Judgment: Decision Analysis for the Decider Rex Brown Hoboken, NJ:John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
In both Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside, the protagonists' release from suffering is their choice--a thoughtful, rational choice made over time after having weighed all the alternatives.
But in the real world, where funds are limited, deferring repair of an off-street crack that has been stable for ten years might be a rational choice for an owner.
His opinion is thus presented as the only rational choice and literally mocks the dissenters, since to think otherwise is "irrational" in his words.
Teachers who exercise rational choice do not find it in their long-term interest to cling to a parochial view of quality at the expense of institutional viability.
Amadae, Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism.
However, many economic sociologists point out the differences between institutional economics and sociology: economics is based on methodological individualism and the assumption of rational choice (or, at least, boundedly rational behavior), whereas much of sociology is not.