Rational Choice Theory and Organizational Theory: A Critique

An ambitious new work by a well-respected economic sociologist, Rational Choice Theory and Organizational Theory: A Critique, offers a new perspective on the strategy and actions of organizations. In merging economic, psychological, and sociological literature as they focus on organizations, author Mary Zey contends that a historical political economy contingency theory provides the key to understanding how organizations function and the relationships between individuals and organizations in which they work. She brings to our attention that economic and other types of organizations differ in their behavior from rational individuals and rational markets. Zey integrates macro- and micro-levels of analysis while drawing together internal and external contingencies to explain how decisions are taken. Zey interprets, synthesizes, and critiques the important work of renowned scholars of rational choice, finance, and organizations including James March, Michael Jensen, and Oliver Williamson to analyze corporate decision making, differentiating it from individual decision making. The analysis is distinguished by inclusive thinking and new approaches to issues that have long confronted those who think about, theorize about, work with, and manage organizations. Mary ZeyÆs work expands the understanding of decision making by presenting evidence that points to the wide range and complexity of human decision making. The rational choice theorists, led most notably by Oliver Williamson and James Coleman, adhere to the tenets of transaction cost analysis and agency theory when looking at micro- and macro-level decisions made by people and organizations. Other models of decision making (habit, emotion, moral and ethical values, among others) have been labeled as deviations from formal rationality. Mary Zey calls these “deviations” alternative motives behind decision making, and her books are an attempt to present the leading work from this point of view. Rational Choice Theory and Organizational Theory: A Critique is the first single-authored volume to analyze and present an alternative model to decision making theory and serves as a companion to Decision Making (Sage, 1992). Rational Choice Theory and Organizational Theory will be useful to professors and students of decision making theory, organizational theory, sociology of organizations, and social theory.

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