Actors and decisions: can theories help theorists make "rational" choices?
Department of Sociology ISCTE Lisbon, Portugal
Rational choice is one of the most relevant theoretical traditions in the social sciences and, while many of its basic assumptions have fuelled considerable theoretical and conceptual criticism and debates within sociology, it has established itself as a prominent perspective in the study of individuals and action. The core components of such an approach, as well as its potential and weaknesses, have been widely discussed, and while authors in this tradition have sought to produce important conceptual innovations to deal with criticisms and shortcomings, others have tried do incorporate some of its elements into other theoretical frameworks. If anything, structural changes in contemporary societies have only come to sharpen the need to improve instruments to accurately account for individual decisions and actions and how they relate to other dimensions of social life. In this presentation, an attempt is made to assess current prospects of debates around these issues, aiming to map some of the main critical points in such discussions and valid contributions that may help to overcome difficulties and limitations in this field. For this purpose, both rational choice theorists and critics will be put in perspective in order to discuss how can sociologists make further progress in understanding the complex links between social contexts and constraints, actors and action and, more specifically, the room for categories such as decision-making and choice in this framework.