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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Glaesser, J. & Cooper, B. (2014). Using Rational Action Theory and Bourdieu's Habitus theory together to account for Educational Decision-making in England and Germany. Sociology 48(3): 463-481.

Author(s) from Durham


Both Rational Action Theory (RAT) and Bourdieu’s habitus theory are employed to explain educational decision-making. RAT assumes that decision-making involves cost-benefit analysis, while habitus theory sees educational pathways as shaped by dispositions reflecting familial class of origin. These theories are often seen as conflicting, but we argue that they can fruitfully be used together.

Proponents of these theories often employ different methods. RAT advocates usually employ survey data, while those favouring habitus theory often use case studies. If cost-benefit reasoning does partly explain educational decision-making, then we should expect to find evidence of it at the micro-level. Drawing on interviews conducted in Germany and England, we show that young people do indeed talk about their educational choices in ways which fit RAT accounts. Their class-based habitus often, however, provides upper and lower boundaries for their aspirations, thus conditioning the nature of the cost-benefit analysis entering into decision-making.

School of Education