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Rational-Utilitarian Tradition

Rational-utilitarian tradition is a perspective introduced by Randall Collins during his time when the broader intellectual movement of ‘rational choice (action) theory’ was on the rise. Rational-utilitarian tradition explains that in order to have everything function in the best manner, people perform exchanges with a rational mindset. It is not strictly a sociological perspective but it has some similarities with the conflict theory as it talks about individuals or groups rather than communities or institutions (DIERKES, 2003, p. 37).

Rational utilitarianism is similar to the economic model of exchange theory in the sense that it theorizes social interactions in an economic way. It analyzes the costs and benefits for individuals, just like the exchange theory. Both of these theories have similar sociological perspectives as they tell that the social interactions and exchanges that people undertake are meant to earn them some advantage (DIERKES, 2003, p. 38). The end goals are different for both theories, as the end goal of the rational-utilitarianism is to achieve maximum utility through rational decision making, while the end goal of the economic model of the exchange theory is to get the maximum economic output via economic transactions.

Peter Blau, one of the most renowned contributors to the exchange theory, observed that people get involved in social exchanges because it gives them an advantage and a potential power. They give their contribution to others with a mindset of getting something back in return. Blau observed that the act and purpose of social interaction are similar to the economic transaction in the sense that both need some sort of reward in return. This social exchange becomes more and more frequent, and it leads to people gaining more advantages. The power analysis of Blau can be related to the daily life interactions of people. Most of the favors given by individuals are expected to gain them something in return. For instance, a programmer helps a writer build his own personalized website, and in return, he would want some content-related help from the writer in his own works (Blau, 2017, p. 27). The exchange is a win-win and brings more advantages to both individuals.


Blau, P., 2017. Exchange and power in social life. Routledge.

DIERKES, M. (2003). Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge. Oxford, Oxford University Press.



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