Rational Choice and Social Constructivism in a Social Capital Perspective

Essay, 2008

5 Seiten, Note: 1.0


Rational Choice and Social Constructivism in a Social Capital Perspective

This essay is concerned with the rational choice theory assumption of complete information in behavioral contexts. I argue that this world is too complex for such a simplification to be accurate. I conclude that the principle of complete information is flawed in respect to social constructivists’ views as well as theories of bounded rationality and social capital.

On the basis of two different social theories - rational choice theory (RCT) and social constructivism (SC); two different ontologies - individualism and holism; and two different logics of action - consequentialism and appropriateness, this essay deals with the problem of incomplete vs. complete information. First of all, in attempt to illustrate the controversy between the RCT on the one hand and SC on the other, both are explained in detail. Secondly, two additional concepts - bounded rationality and social capital - are introduced, followed by a concise theoretical investigation. The RCT can be described as a “logic of consequentialism”1 that leads to strategic bargaining, cost-benefit calculations, and utility-maximizing action, which is based on fixed interests and preferences of actors and guided by the outcome of action.2 In this respect, one might say that such an instrumental rationality is “teleological”.3 Furthermore, “[...rational] human actors choose among alternatives by evaluating their likely consequences for personal or collective objectives, conscious that other actors are doing likewise.”4 Such actors are assumed to be supplied with complete information about all available alternatives - always choosing the best, or, in other words, following consequential incentives. It is alleged that estimates about the future are on average accurate.5

What does that mean for a polity? March and Olsen find that the consequential perspective sees political order as evolving from intercession among rational actors following personal preferences or interests in situations in which there may be gains to coordinated action. “Political integration,” they argue, “represents a collection of ‘contracts’ negotiated among actors with conflicting interests and varying resources.”6 In other words, political processes aim at aggregating individual preferences into collective actions through bargaining, negotiating, coalition forming, and exchange. Therefore, society “is constituted by individuals for the fulfillment of individual ends.”7 RCT simplifies “problems of preference complexity and endogeneity by seeing politics as decomposing complex systems into relatively autonomous subsystems [,..]”.8 Finally, RCT is ignorant of exogenous uncertainties.

That is where SC comes in. It signifies a “logic of appropriateness”9, within which “human agents do not exist independently from their social environment and its collectively shared systems of meanings.”10 As opposed to RCT, SC aims at doing “the right thing”.11 Within this realm of rule-guided behavior, interests and identities are no longer fixed, but subject to questioning and disputes and, hence, to alteration.12 As March and Olsen put it: “Action involves evoking an identity [...] and matching the obligations of that identity [...] to a specific situation. The pursuit of purpose is associated with identities more then with interests, and with the selection of rules more than with individual rational expectations.”13 Of course, social norms14 can not only be replicated, but also changed in and through the practice of actors.15 Analogically, “[expectations], preferences, identities and meanings are affected by human interaction and experience. They coevolve with the actions they produce.”16 Behavior in the sense of SC is oriented toward reaching a common understanding, which is the key difference to RCT. Actors try to persuade each other to change their beliefs17 in order to reach a reasoned consent about validity claims.18 Therefore, agents are not simply the puppets of social structure, since they can actively challenge the validity claims inherent in any communicative action. At the same time, they are social agents that produce and reproduce the intersubjective structures of meanings through their communicative practices.19

Similar to RCT, SC involves some preconditions, namely empathy and a supply of collective interpretations (or common knowledge), which lead to a common life world.20


1 Risse 2000, p. 1

2 Risse 2000, p.

3 Muller 2004, p. 405

4 March & Olsen 1998, p. 949

5 March & Olsen 1998, p. 950

6 March & Olsen 1998, p. 949

7 March & Olsen 1998, p. 950

8 March & Olsen 1998, p. 950

9 March & Olsen 1998, p. 949

10 Risse 2000, p. 5

11 Risse 2000, p. 4

12 Risse 2000, p. 10

13 March & Olsen 1998, p. 951

14 Risse defines ‘social norms’ as collective expectations about proper behavior for a given identity.

15 Müller 2004, p. 412

16 March & Olsen 1998, p. 969

17 Risse defines ‘beliefs’ as representations and enactments of social and intersubjective culture.

18 Risse 2000, p. 9

19 Risse 2000, p. 10

20 Risse 2000, p. 10f

Ende der Leseprobe aus 5 Seiten


Rational Choice and Social Constructivism in a Social Capital Perspective
Universität Luzern
ISBN (eBook)
374 KB
Rational, Choice, Social, Constructivism, Social, Capital, Perspective
Arbeit zitieren
Samuel Schmid (Autor), 2008, Rational Choice and Social Constructivism in a Social Capital Perspective, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/160030


  • Noch keine Kommentare.
Im eBook lesen
Titel: Rational Choice and Social Constructivism in a Social Capital Perspective

Ihre Arbeit hochladen

Ihre Hausarbeit / Abschlussarbeit:

- Publikation als eBook und Buch
- Hohes Honorar auf die Verkäufe
- Für Sie komplett kostenlos – mit ISBN
- Es dauert nur 5 Minuten
- Jede Arbeit findet Leser

Kostenlos Autor werden