Social behavior and the covid pandemic

Anyone who thinks that the social world is orderly and predictable needs to reflect carefully on the way the covid pandemic has played out in the United States and many other countries. For political scientists who are partial to rational-choice explanations of individual behavior -- you'll need to think again. No theory of rationality or …

Rational life plans and the stopping problem

Image: a poor solution to the stopping problem In earlier posts I discussed the question of "rational plans of life" (link, link, link, link) and argued that standard theories of rational decision making under uncertainty don't do well in this context. I argued instead that rationality in navigating and building a life is not analogous to remodeling your …

Rational life plans

Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls agree: people ought to have rational plans of life to guide their everyday efforts and activities. But what is involved in being rational about one's plan of life? And really, what is a plan of life? Is it a sketch of a lifetime goal, along with some indications of the efforts …

Rationality over the long term

image: Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his students Millions of words have been written on the topic of rationality in action. Life involves choices. How should we choose between available alternatives? Where should I go to college? Which job should I accept? Should I buy a house or rent an apartment? How much time should I give …

Peggy Somers’ contribution to realism

Peggy Somers is an important contributor to the active field of sociological theory. And she identifies as a critical realist when it comes to understanding the logic and epistemology of the historical social sciences. Her views were extensively developed in “We’re no angels” (1998; link). The title picks up on the epistemology that she favors: …

The domain of agent-based models

Agent-based modeling is an intriguing new set of tools for computational social science. The techniques permit us to project forward the system-level effects of a set of assumptions about agent behavior and a given environment. What kinds of real social phenomena are amenable to treatment by the techniques of agent-based modeling? David O'Sullivan and his …

Social embeddedness

To what extent do individuals choose their courses of action largely on the basis of a calculation of costs and benefits? And to what extent, on the contrary, are their actions importantly driven by the normative assumptions they share with other individuals with whom they interact? Mark Granovetter formulated this foundational question for the social …

Amartya Sen’s commitments

A recent post examined the Akerlof and Kranton formalization of identity within a rational choice framework.  It is worth considering how this approach compares with Amartya Sen's arguments about "commitments" in "Rational Fools" (link).  Sen's essay is a critique of the theory of narrow economic rationality to the extent that it is thought to realistically describe …

Akerlof and Kranton on identity economics

George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton have collaborated for over ten years on a simple idea: is it possible to introduce the concept of social identity into the formal mechanics of mainstream economics? Can "identity" complement "interest" in the calculation of rational individual behavior? Their ideas were developed in several important articles: "Economics and Identity" (link), "Identity …

Coleman on the elementary actor

  James Coleman's work has had a major influence on an important strand of thinking in the social sciences since the publication of Foundations of Social Theory in 1990.  He was a somewhat iconoclastic sociologist, in that his approach to social theory was grounded in an actor-centered view of the social world. He was a rational-choice …

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