A feminist critique of rational-choice theories: Implications for sociology

Paula England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

I consider the relationship between two currents affecting sociology, rational-choice theory and interdisciplinary feminist theory. In particular, I consider how the feminist critique of the separative model of self applies to one version of rational-choice theory, neoclassical economics. In discussing this I identify four assumptions of neoclassical economics: selfishness; interpersonal utility comparisons are impossible; tastes are exogenous and unchanging; and individuals are rational. I argue that each of these harmonizes best with a view of separate rather than connected selves, and that this imbalance distorts theories, particularly those that claim to understand women's experience. These distorting assumptions are less prevalent in sociology than in economics, but some of them are implicit in some versions of sociological rational-choice and exchange theories. I conclude by using research on marital power to illustrate how removing distorting assumptions and bringing questions about separation/connection to center stage can help illuminate sociological research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-28
Number of pages15
JournalThe American Sociologist
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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