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.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Rational choice theory suggests parents are "utility maximisers" who make decisions based on clear value preferences, that they are able to demand effective action from schools and teachers, and can be relied upon to pursue the best interests of their children.
37) that such research in politics should be more critical and self-aware about its assumptions and not so reluctant to reconsider the role of rational choice theory, the source of the assumptions.
While it makes interesting additions to rational choice theory itself, Yuengert's book is also a contribution to the metatheory of economics.
I also share Etzioni's critical stance toward rational choice theory. That said, I find his article "The Limits of Knowledge: Personal and Public" (Issues, Fall 2012) disappointing.
The law and economics movement is likely to regroup or reform itself under a revised conception of market efficiency, as indicated by the chastened admissions of the leaders of the old school, or move in the direction of a revised conception of rational choice theory represented by the thriving school of behavioral law and economics.
The name 'rational choice theory' came to be applied to the model, thereby elevating its use from moral neutrality to a normative ideal: not only was the theory used to predict real political behaviour such as Kruschev's response to Kennedy's ultimatum during the Cuban crisis, but it became the paradigm in microeconomics.
It doesn't answer the question: "Why would people conform?" Klandermans (1986a) does not suggest any limitations of the rational choice theory.
Yet for all its technical sophistication, mainstream rational choice theory handles value pluralism poorly.
As for rational choice theory, developed by William Riker and the Rochester department of political science in the 1950s and 1960s, this too had relatively little influence in Britain, where older varieties of historical and social institutionalism proved more attractive.
In part, this is because formalization is not the only way that rational choice theory is productively expressed.
He critically examines the rational choice theory and concludes that rationality not only encompasses self-interest and individual preferences but incorporates the well being of other individuals as well--doing good for others, as has been seen frequently observed, is quite a rational choice for individuals, argues the author.