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Symposium on Historical Sociology and Rational Choice Theory "We're No Angels": Realism, Rational Choice, and Relationality in Social Science

Margaret R. Somers
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 104, No. 3 (November 1998), pp. 722-784
DOI: 10.1086/210085
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/210085
Page Count: 63
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Symposium on Historical Sociology and Rational Choice Theory "We're No Angels": Realism, Rational Choice, and Relationality in Social Science
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Abstract

An alarm has been sounded that historical sociology is subverting the theoretical aims of social science. Criticizing an array of widely influential scholars, Kiser and Hechter propose that rational choice theory can avoid the trend toward "empiricism" that results from the import of history into sociology. Their position is based on theoretical realism–a radically antipositivist thesis that uses ontological and theoretical postulates to theorize about reality beyond positive appearance. A close examination of theoretical realism casts doubts on the epistemological foundations of rational choice theory. Relational realism, the alternative introduced here, places greater emphasis on the pragmatic elements of explanation, supporting a more relational, causal‐historical, and problem‐driven view of theory. A renewed appreciation of what is defined as Kuhn's historical episte‐mology provides the foundation for evaluating these competing research programs.

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