Four Sociological Traditions

By Randall Collins | Go to book overview

2: The Rational/Utilitarian Tradition

So far as the pursuit of rationality entails study, forethought, and calculation, and such things hurt, as they often do, the pursuit of rationality is itself irrational unless their costs are reckoned in the balance. The costs of rationality may make rationality irrational. George Homans, 1961

The second tradition we will treat is also a very old one. But its importance in social thought has fluctuated a good deal over the years, and its identity has shifted, along with the name by which it has been known. At first, during the. 1700s and 1800s, it was called Utilitarianism, and its advocates were British social philosophers. At that time it was closely connected with economics a discipline just coming into being. In the late 1800s, Utilitarianism became unfashionable in philosophy, and economics became more professionalized and broke free of its old philosophical connections. All was quiet until the 1950s, when sociologists began to formulate a position known as "exchange theory." In other disciplines too there were stirrings, in political science, in philosophy, and among economists who decided their approach had application outside of their own field. By the 1970s and 1980s there was a widespread movement that was usually known as "rational choice," although some called it "rational action," and one policy-oriented segment of the movement called itself "public choice" theory. I am going to use the term "rational/utilitarian" to refer to this whole tradition. (Sometimes, for convenience, I will abbreviate this to simply "utilitarianism.")

-121-

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Four Sociological Traditions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents ix
  • Prologue- the Rise of the Social Sciences 3
  • 1- The Conflict Tradition 47
  • Notes 118
  • 2- The Rational/Utilitarian Tradition 121
  • Notes 179
  • 3- The Durkheimian Tradition 181
  • Notes 236
  • 4- The Microinteractionist Tradition 242
  • Notes 289
  • Epilogue 291
  • Bibliography 297
  • Index 311
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