2003 - Volume 44 > Numéro 2

ISSN 0035-2969

Rationality, social discipline and structure
Emmanuel LAZEGA

pp. 305-329


James Coleman’s work often insists on the fact that sociology should focus on the asymmetric relationship, in contemporary society, between corporate and individual, or « natural », actors. In such an organizational society, behavior is rationalized, interdependencies are formally managed in a highly sophisticated way, and « natural actors » need sociologists’ knowledge to hold their own. In order to build this knowledge, Coleman offers a sociological version of rational choice theory. This paper suggests that this new version of rational choice is not sufficient to account for individual and collective action in the organizational society. An alternative, neo-structural approach to social behavior is provided, in which actors are rational when they contextualize their own actions through appropriateness judgments. With these judgments, they politicise their exchanges and the management of their interdependencies. This politicisation includes myopic as well as far-sighted attempts at improving one’s opportunity structure, particularly by creating or maintaining social niches or getting involved in status competition. In turn, this conception of actor’s behavior leads to improved understanding of the social discipline that underlies social exchanges and collective action. It highlights the social processes that characterize organized settings and that are made possible by this discipline, such as particularistic solidarities, social control and regulation. Thus, this neo-structural approach to rational choice theory pays particular attention to the meso level of social reality, a level that James Coleman and his models explore very little.



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