The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research

The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research

The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research

The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research


The Handbook of Rational Choice Social Research offers the first comprehensive overview of how the rational choice paradigm can inform empirical research within the social sciences. This landmark collection highlights successful empirical applications across a broad array of disciplines, including sociology, political science, economics, history, and psychology.

Taking on issues ranging from financial markets and terrorism to immigration, race relations, and emotions, and a huge variety of other phenomena, rational choice proves a useful tool for theory- driven social research. Each chapter uses a rational choice framework to elaborate on testable hypotheses and then apply this to empirical research, including experimental research, survey studies, ethnographies, and historical investigations. Useful to students and scholars across the social sciences, this handbook will reinvigorate discussions about the utility and versatility of the rational choice approach, its key assumptions, and tools.


During the past two decades or so, rational choice theory has significantly advanced in refining its theoretical core and its empirical applications, and has made a respectable contribution to a large variety of substantive research areas (Hechter and Kanazawa 1997; Hedström and Stern 2008; Kronenberg and Kalter 2012; Macy and Flache 1995; Voss and Abraham 2000). This volume presents an overview of some of the achievements of what we call rational choice social research—empirical investigations that were guided by rational choice reasoning.

In this introductory essay, we first sketch what could be described as the “Rational Choice Paradox”—that it is actually the strengths of the approach that have inhibited its further advancement. We then sketch some of the major criticisms against the approach, and then provide a very brief summary of the theoretical core of the rational choice approach. Next we outline the analytical structure and chapters of this Handbook. In the concluding section, we discuss some future perspectives for the approach, in particular its potential to develop into a full-fledged interlevel, interfield research program (Kuipers 2001).

The Rational Choice Paradox

Proponents of rational choice reasoning often argue that the rational choice approach, unlike any other paradigm in the social sciences, can be characterized by a well-developed, highly consistent, and widely shared set of formalized core assumptions (Coleman 1990). They praise its emphasis on parsimonious model building, conceptual rigor, and explicit attention to micro-macro problems for theory formation (Raub, Buskens, and Van Assen 2011)—qualities that, in the eyes of its proponents, warrant claims of a “privileged role” of rational choice modeling above other approaches attempting to explain social phenomena in terms of individual action (Goldthorpe 2007: 172; Abell 1992).

The rational choice approach indeed continues to attract use by increasing numbers of scholars. In more and more subfields of the social sciences, scholars realize the usefulness of the rational choice approach as a tool for theory-driven social research and interventions. It is not uncommon that empirical research . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.