Rational Lives Norms and Values in Politics and Society
by Dennis Chong
University of Chicago Press, 2000
Cloth: 978-0-226-10438-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-10439-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-10437-9


Those who study value conflicts have resisted rational choice approaches in the social sciences, contending that political conflict over cultural values is best explained by group loyalties, symbolic motives, and other "nonrational" factors. However, Chong shows that a single model can explain how people make decisions across both social and economic realms. He argues that our preferences result from a combination of psychological dispositions, which are shaped by social influences and developed over the life span.

Chong's book yields insights about the circumstances under which preferences, beliefs, values, norms and group identifications are formed. It offers a provocative explanation of how ingrained social norms and values can change over time despite the forces maintaining the status quo.

"Going beyond the tired polemics on both sides, [Chong] constructs a new interpretation of human behavior in which culture and individual rationality both matter. The synthesis is a more comprehensive and powerful explanatory framework than either side could have produced, and Chong's creativity should influence subsequent interpretations of our social life in fundamental ways."—Christopher H. Achen, University of Michigan


List of Figures Acknowledgments Introduction Interests versus Values Rational Choice Status Politics Symbolic Politics Does Rational Choice Theory Survive the Challenges Posed by the Symbolic Politics Research? Taking Stock of Expressive and Instrumental Theories A Model of Individual Choice Dispositions and Incentives Reference Groups and Conformity Group Dynamics A Model of Individual Choice Incentives: The Meaning of π Reinforcing Only L Reinforcing Only R Dispositions: The Meaning of a and b Exposure to Both L and R Deductions: The Interplay between Incentives and Dispositions Conclusion Coordination and Conflict Four Mechanisms of Defense Coordination Problems Ethnocentrism Vested Interests Majorities and Minorities Conclusion Cultural Mobilization Creating Common Frames of Reference Deductions General Strategies The Element of Surprise Convergence on a Focal Point Arguing with Principles Conclusion Economics Meets Morality in a Texas Community Background Setting the Agenda Framing Strategies following the First Vote Competing Worldviews The Role of Social and Moral Beliefs in Solving Coordination Problems Morality, Trust, and Social Order Political Repercussions of Cultural Diversity Evaluating Information and Reasoning about Means and Ends Are the Citizens of Williamson County Acting in Their Self-interest? Conclusion Mass Adjustment to New Norms Incentives and Dispositions (Reprised) Social Adjustment to New Norms and Practices A Model of Social Adjustment Mechanisms of Social Change How the South Was Won Conclusion Culture and Strategy A Unifying Theory Value Formation Social Change The Limits of Rationality Expressive and Moral Action A Final Word Notes Biblography Index