XVII ISA World Congress of Sociology, Sociology on the move, Gothenburg, Sweden, July 2010

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Research Committee on
Rational Choice RC45

Programme Coordinator
Yoshimichi Sato, President of RC45, at ysato@sal.tohoku.ac.jp

Congress Programme


Sessions descriptions

Session 1: Rational choice applications to migrations
Organizer: Antonio M. Chiesi, University of Milan, Italy, antonio.chiesi@unimi.it
The session will consider papers contributing to develop sociological approaches to RCT applied to migrations. These are some directions of these developments:

    1. At micro level traditional RAT models conceptualize migration as an individual decision-making strategy usually under uncertainty, for seeking income and employment. Discussions and research results on the complexity of the utility function of the potential migrant will be accepted, confronting the problem of information asymmetry, risk management and the introduction of additional parameters related to the social identity of the actor. Moreover and increasingly, modern migrations are not simply a one shot dilemma, but can imply ‘intermediate decisions’, like temporary or seasonal migrations, and a sort of constant investment involving long term strategies which affect ones’ biography. The implications of gendered migrations on RAT are also an emerging issue of interest.

    2. At meso level, a more recent approach assumes that migration decisions are not taken by isolated individuals but within a larger unit of interrelated people, which is the household. In this perspective the assumption of selfishness of the actor does not fit actual decisions taken by the individual actor. More generally, migrant networks are sets of interpersonal ties that connect migrants, former migrants and non-migrants in origin and destination areas through ties of kinship, friendship, and shared community origin. They increase the likelihood of successful migrations because they lower the cost and risks of moving and increase the expected net returns to migrate. Network connections constitute a social resource (social capital) that people can use in pursuing their strategies.

    3. At macro level RCT models based on collective actions assume that members of any ethnic group will engage in collective action if they estimate a net private benefit from participation. Where migrations are organized inside an ethnic group they can be viewed as a form of collective action. In this case RCT suggests that collective action does not depend on a group’s desire to attain a collective good. The likelihood to participate can be thought as a function of at least two different structural constraints: the group’s organizational resources to reward participants, regardless of the outcome of the collective action, and the effectiveness of institutional (social and political) costs to participation. This approach can explain inter-group variations in collective action in different countries.


The aim of the session is presenting and discussing papers related to these topics. Theoretical papers as well as empirical ones are welcome. Applications of formal model as well as analytical papers about empirical case studies or discursive papers about the limits of RAT will be accepted, containing proposals for integrated approaches or criticism focusing on the lack of realism in the assumption that migrants calculate the expected consequences of their options and choose the best of them.

Session 2: Mechanism of creation and return of social capital
Organizer: Kazuto Misumi, Kyushu University, Japan, kmisumi@scs.kyushu-u.ac.jp
The mechanism of creation and return of social capital has two respects from the viewpoint of rationality. On the one hand, it is founded on rational choice or strategic thinking of individuals. An actor will appear as a rational investor on social structure in the context of status attainment and he/she could be a manager or a broker who strategically controls intra- or inter-organizational networking. In a sense, social capital is the cumulative effect of these activities. On the other hand, social capital is often captured for kinds of structural effects and collective goods that are related with superintendence, group solidarity, and general trust. In a sense that these group conditions have their own logics, social capital is beyond, and is often contrary to rationality. Then, it still seems difficult for us to capture a whole picture of social capital. In this session, we call for papers that discuss theoretical and empirical problems and new ideas in order to synthesize the abovementioned two respects.

Session 3: Networks, hierarchy and cooperation
Organizer: Rafael Wittek, University of Groningen, The Netherlands,
r.p.m.wittek@rug.nl
This session invites contributions addressing the interrelationship between different forms of social embeddedness, hierarchical positions, and cooperation. So far, embeddedness research has generated a sizeable body of insights on how social relations and network structures can both negatively or positively affect cooperation between natural persons and/or corporate actors. Relatively little is known about the degree to which hierarchies interfere with these processes. Hierarchy broadly conceived implies the categorization and ranking of units with regard to one or more specific attributes, e.g. in terms of formal authority, informal status, reputation, access to resources etc. The session welcomes papers covering these and related questions. Ideas for potential general topics could be (but are not at all restricted to) the following:

The link between hierarchy, networks and cooperation can be investigated on the micro-, meso-, and macrolevel alike: intrapersonal mechanisms (e.g. the effects of status inconsistency in the propensity to collaborate with others); small-group and intra-organizational processes (e.g. the emergence of informal hierarchies in small groups, work teams, social movements), societal or market level processes (e.g. the role of cultural conceptions about hierarchy in affecting collaboration and patterns of social network formation; the impact of reputation differences between firms in a market on inter-organizational network formation).

Papers should make both a strong theoretical and empirical contribution to the literature. Theoretically, the papers should clearly specify the social mechanism and address the macro-micro link. Empirically, the papers can draw on a broad variety of research methods (experimental studies, survey research, ethnographic research, sociometric studies, agent-based models and simulations etc.). Substantively, contributions to any field of social research are welcome.

Session 4: Personal identity and social identity: Beyond rational choice theory?
Organizers: Fernando Aguiar, IESA-CSIC, Spain, faguiar@iesa.csic.es
Andrés de Francisco, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain,
José Antonio Noguera, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain
Personal identity and social identity pose one of the most important challenges to rational choice theory. However, against the opinion of some identity theorists, rational choice theorists do not hold a common position regarding identity.

On the one hand, externalist rational choice theory (that interprets individual preferences as mere binary relations and not as mental events) ignores the concept of social identity or reduces it to revealed preferences. Scholars as Russell Hardin or Christina Bicchieri think that social identity is none other than preferences and norms or rules of cooperation. On the other hand, internalist rational choice theory (that interprets preferences in terms of desires and beliefs internal to the individual, that is, as mental events) considers social identity as a key concept in explaining social action because it permits expressive motivations to be included in the models.
For its part, the influence of personal identity (understood as the stability of self through time) in social action has been almost completely neglected by rational choice models, with the exception of some strategic models of multiple self.

Some topics for discussion, then, could be summarized in the following questions:

Formal or not formal papers (analytic narrative style), either empirical or theoretical, will be welcomed. However, mere baroque formal exercises will be discouraged.
Abstracts should be sent to Fernando Aguiar, faguiar@iesa.csic.es.

Session 5: Rational choice and behavioral game theory: The experimental approach
Organizers: Andreas Diekmann, ETH Zürich, Switzerland,
andreas.diekmann@soz.gess.ethz.ch, and Wojtek Przepiorka, ETH Zürich, Switzerland, wojtek.przepiorka@soz.gess.ethz.ch
Behavioral game theory (BGT) is an extension of formal game theory. BGT incorporates psychological motives such as fairness, envy, status orientation or other driving forces of individual actions in strategic situations. The aim of BGT is to enhance the explanatory and predictive power of game theory. BGT has a strong emphasis on experimental research, lab experiments as well as field experiments, to test predictions of BGT in various settings. Many applications of BGT are of great interest for sociologists. Examples are prosocial behavior, social cooperation or “the problem of social order”, social norms and sanctions, trust, reciprocity, and social exchange.
Presentations should deal with one of the following topics:

Session 6: Rational foundations of macro sociology: Bringing Coleman's boat back in
Organizer: Yoshimichi Sato, Tohoku University, Japan, ysato@sal.tohoku.ac.jp
About twenty years have passed since the publication of James Coleman’s Foundations of Social Theory. Although Coleman took full advantage of general equilibrium analysis by adding the concepts of power and right to it, new analytical tools such as game theory, evolutionary game theory, and agent-based model have been developed since Foundations of Social Theory, and sociological analyses with them have become prevalent. However, they do not seem to have answered a question on macro sociology posed by Coleman.

The question is about a transition from micro to macro levels. Coleman’s scheme of the micro-macro linkage, which is often called “Coleman’s boat” or “Coleman’s bathtub” because of its shape, is drawn as below. A fundamental task of sociology is to explain Macro Factor Y. It is “explained” by Macro Factor X (arrow A) in conventional macro sociology. However, according to Coleman, the explanation is not perfect. A full explanation should be done through a macro-to-micro and a micro-to-macro transition. That is, the following three questions should be answered: (1) How Macro Factor X creates constraints on actors (arrow B); (2) How actors choose actions under the constraints (arrow C); (3) How the actions accumulate to the macro level (arrow D). Coleman argues that the third question is most difficult to answer because it involves the emergence of institutions and social structure. The above-mentioned tools do not seem to have succeeded in answering the question.

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With this theoretical background, this session calls for papers that intend to answer the question. The emergence of an institution, that of social structure, that of culture from accumulated interactions among actors are thought-provoking topics. Both of formal and non-formal papers are welcome. Theoretical papers as well as empirical papers are also welcome.

Session 7: Collective decision making and group processes
Organizer: Diane Payne, University College Dublin, diane.payne@ucd.ie
This session calls for papers which present and discuss state of the art applications of rational choice sociology to the analysis of collective decision making in groups. Papers which present primarily a theoretical model discussion are very welcome. However it is hoped that most papers will also present and discuss the results of empirical applications of the theoretical research approach.

Session 8: Rationalizing irrationalities
Organizer: Hanno Scholtz, University of Zurich, scholtz@soziologie.uzh.ch
Methodological individualism is tied to the conception of rationality: The assumption that rational actors pursue their goals gives a sound foundation for Coleman’s bathtub. But what if actors do not behave rationally? Experimental game theory provided rationality critiques with empirical foundations, and rational choice theory has been definitely more ‘en vogue’ in times before it did so. But a wider understanding of rationality should be able to incorporate those “irrationalities” in a general framework in which the pursued goals and occupied technologies are appropriately modeled: Important examples for this kind of incorporation are the cases of rational addiction or framing theories. The session intends to take stock of the recent state of research: Where are the major challenges for rationalism today, and how are they met?

Session 9: Business Meeting

Integrative session 5: Rational choice approaches to educational inequality and social stratification
Integrative session of Research Committees RC04 Sociology of Education, RC28 Social Stratification and RC45 Rational Choice