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Sociological Theory and Rational Choice Theory

Sociological Theory and Rational Choice Theory,PETER ABELL

Sociological Theory and Rational Choice Theory   (Citations: 3)
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We may conveniently start with the words of Weber: "Sociology.….is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects." Furthermore, "action is social when it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby orientated in its course" (Weber, 1947). Rational choice or action theory may be understood as one possible interpretation of Weber's program, though it must be said a rather special one in that it invites us to adopt the least complex conception of social action that we can analytically get away with in arriving at a "causal explanation of its course and effects." It thus departs from many post-Weberian (and for that matter pre-Weberian) theoretical traditions - particularly those of a phenomenological persuasion - where the purpose seems to tilt in an entirely opposing direction, namely to find ways of conceiving (social) actions which are locally detailed and complex. Why it should be that rational choice theory adopts this heterodox standpoint will detain us below. Even with all its manifest limitations rational choice theory has arguably proven to be the most successful theoretical framework in those social sciences which, like sociology, deal with explanations of macro or system-level phenomena and we should accordingly be somewhat circumspect before, following the persuasive voice of Parsons (1937), roundly rejecting it. Although we shall examine the assumptions of rational choice theory rather closely later on, a broad working definition (probably a little too broad for some) will help to get us started. In its broadest interpretation rational choice theory invites us to understand individual actors (which in specified circumstances may be collectivities of one sort or another) as acting, or more likely interacting, in a manner such that they can be deemed to be doing the best they can for themselves, given their objectives, resources, and circumstances, as they see them. It is perhaps appropriate here to insert a word of caution. In my view it would be dangerously partisan to argue for an exclusive reliance upon any single theoretical framework in sociology - the shape of the discipline is just too diverse for this to ring true. Indeed, all I wish to urge here is that rational choice theory may be the least bad theoretical framework at our disposal, for solving certain theoretical puzzles (Abell, 1992). This, as I hope to demonstrate, derives partly from its own strengths (albeit limited ones) but also from the weaknesses of its competitors. In this latter respect it will be up to the reader to compare the arguments contained here, with those in other chapters in this volume.
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    • ...In the literature, the theory and behaviour of rational consumers is not unambiguous, and has been examined from various scientific perspectives (Miljkovic, 2005; Abell, 1996)...

    Wisa Majamaaet al. End‐user oriented public‐private partnerships in real estate industry

    • ...figure 4: Macro- and Micro-level Interrelations (adapted from Coleman 1990: 8 with modifications by Abell 2000: 228 and by the author)...
    • ...RCT is based on the following three methodical assumptions (Abell 2000: 231): Macro causes Macro outcomes...
    • ...action." (Abell 2000: 237) By contrast game theory takes into consideration strategic actions...
    • ...micro-macro mechanisms and allows for the explanation of dynamic social relationships (Abell 2000)...

    Andreas Georg Scherer. Modes of Explanation in Organization Theory

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