Rational Choice and Sociology

Alberto Martinelli

in Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520241367
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937857 | DOI:
Rational Choice and Sociology

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This chapter examines rational choice as one of the main paradigms in contemporary social sciences. It begins by discussing the original “opposition” between sociological theory and rational utilitarianism. Second, the chapter reviews the key concepts of rational choice and their main sociological critiques, with a few references to the contributions made by George Homans, James Coleman, and Raymond Boudon. Third, the chapter assesses and evaluates Coleman's theory which attempted to build a general sociological theory based on rational choice. Then the chapter discusses Smelser's attempt to develop a supplement to rational choice by analyzing ambivalence. The chapter ends with some reflections on the multiplicity of paradigms and the difficulties of general theory building in sociology. The chapter also argues for a “tool kit version” of rational choice rather than a general theory perspective.

Keywords: rational choice; contemporary social sciences; sociological theory; rational utilitarianism; George Homans; James Coleman; Raymond Boudon

Chapter.  9419 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

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