Few approaches in social science have generated as much controversy as rational choice (RC) theory. The ‘economic approach to politics’ has been hailed as finally making political science scientific, and some have expressed the conviction that there is not any other theory worth taking seriously (Riker 1990). RC theory has spread across the social sciences in general and political science in particular, earning itself a reputation for being imperialistic. But this newcomer became the target of passionate attacks. According to the critics, it was non-scientific nonsense advocated by people who wanted to show off their maths skills but who could not test a theory empirically. The debate really took off after Donald Green and Ian Shapiro published their book The Pathologies of Rational Choice (1994) which criticizes RC theory for being unfalsifiable or outright false. Empirical results do not seem to settle the matter: with the same conviction that RC theorists claim great empirical successes, critics argue that the theory does badly when tested. There will always be some disagreement over theories in social science, but the debate about RC theory — especially since the publication of Pathologies — has been characterized by particular vehemence. For example, only a few years ago the so-called Perestroika movement brought talk of conspiracies, secret meetings and people hiding behind anonymity in fear of retaliation: according to this movement, RC theory and quantitative methods had taken over political science and made life miserable for everyone else.
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