The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Rational Choice and Sociology

  • Peter Hedström
  • Charlotta Stern
Reference work entry


Rational-choice theorizing has a long tradition within sociology, but has always been controversial and contested. Yet it has influenced the theoretical vocabulary of the discipline at large and has made deep inroads into some important sociological areas such as social movements, social mobility, and religion. Most sociological rational-choice theories assume that actors act rationally in a broad sense, and focus on the aggregate outcomes that individual actors in interaction with one another are likely to bring about. This article reviews the most important contributions to the rational-choice tradition in sociology, and briefly discusses its historical past and its likely future.


Assumptions Behavioural economics Blau, P Boudon, R Class Coleman, J Collective action Economic sociology Elster, J Expected utility hypothesis Experimental economics Explanation Free rider problem General equilibrium Homans, G Implicit contracts Methodological individualism Olson, M Pareto, V Parsons, T Preferences Public choice Public goods Rational choice and political science Rational-choice sociology Reciprocity Religion, sociology of Social interactions Social mobility Social networks, sociology of Social norms Transaction costs Trust Weber, M 

JEL Classification

A12 A14 Z12 Z13 D01 
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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Hedström
    • 1
  • Charlotta Stern
    • 1
  1. 1.