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Studies 12 August, 2020

The Limits of Rational Choice in the Sociology of Social Movements: The 20 February Movement and the Rif Movement in Morocco

Mohamed Naimi

Professor of Social Science Research Methods at the Institute of Social Development in Rabat, Morocco.

This study critically assesses rational choice theory in the sociology of social movements using Moroccan protest movements as a case study. It also shows how social movement studies evolved from social psychology to rational choice theory, which supposes that individuals decide whether to participate in any social movement by calculating costs and benefits. By studying the movements of unemployed graduates in Morocco, the paper demonstrates that, despite the theory's ability to interpret some aspects of social movements, it falls short when it comes to explaining symbolically motivated movements. These movements stress self-assertion and immaterial values such as freedom and dignity, as in the case of the 20 February and the Rif movements. As an alternative this study proposes to extend the boundaries of this theory to include the cognitive field through the application of axiological rationality instead of rational choice theory.


* This study was published in the fifth issue of AlMuntaqa, a peer-reviewed academic journal for the social sciences and humanities, (pp. 81-89). You can read the full paper here.

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