R ationality and S ociety

Authored by: Valeska P. Korff , Mimi Zou , Tom Zwart , Rafael Wittek

T he H andbook of S ociology and H uman R ights

Print publication date:  February  2013
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9781594518829
eBook ISBN: 9781315634227
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258391


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One of the key objectives of the international human rights movement is to institutionalize adherence to human rights principles in societies around the world. Institutionalization refers to a situation in which a set of rules is considered as legitimate, widely accepted, and “infused with value” (Selznick 1957, 17). The key argument we seek to elaborate in this chapter is that rational-choice theory and its core methodological principle, structural individualism, offers a valuable contribution to the human rights paradigm in general and to explaining variations in the institutionalization of human rights in particular. Structural individualism posits that all social phenomena on the macro and meso levels—like the institutionalization of human rights—need to be explained by referring, or descending, to the micro level of individual decisions and behavior. Hence, when explaining the structural conditions under which human rights become institutionalized in a society, we need to understand the decision-making and behavior of the involved actors.

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