Methodological Individualism and Rational Choice

Andrew H. Kydd

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


 Methodological Individualism and Rational Choice

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  • International Relations
  • Political Methodology


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This article discusses the concept of methodological individualism and rational choice (MIRC). MIRC strives to explain international events by positing individuals, states, or substate actors, with fixed preferences and identities, who rationally adjust their beliefs and strategies in response to the information they receive and the strategies pursued by other actors. MIRC derives tremendous legitimacy from its relationship to the two strongest belief structures in the world today, liberalism in the normative sphere and science in the positive sphere. It draws further strength because it presents a unified (at the level of assumptions) body of theory that can be generalized and extended to new issue areas with relative ease. Ironically, for a scientific movement, it is on weakest grounds empirically; confirmation of its findings has been difficult. However, nontrivial empirical regularities have proved very difficult to find for any theory in international relations; typically the more precise and falsifiable the theory, the more resoundingly falsified it is. Given the difficulty in establishing robust law-like findings in international relations, strong theoretical frameworks such as MIRC will continue to be useful in the discipline.

Keywords: international relations; MIRC; liberalism; scientific movement; theoretical frameworks

Article.  7988 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Political Methodology

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