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Unit information: Rational Choice in 2021/22

Unit name Rational Choice
Unit code POLI21203
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Wickham-Jones
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

The central aims of this unit are to provide an introduction to different theories of rational choice, including game theory, and to examine their application to political problems. Rational choice theories involve the application of rationality to explain the decisions people make. They encompass analysing matters such as: How and why do individuals choose to cooperate with each other rather than engage in conflict? Do individuals act in a deliberate and calculating way at all times, and do they always seek to promote their own self-interest? The ability of rational choice theories to explain political phenomena will be considered in both theoretical and empirical terms.

The unit will consider how rational choice explains such matters as voting decisions, the strategies and policies that parties choose, the nature of the state, and the problem of collective action.


  • To acquaint students with contemporary ideas about political science, in the form of rational choice theories and their relationship to political problems;
  • to encourage students to develop a more critical approach to politics;
  • to analyse some political puzzles using the tools of rational choice and consider potential explanations that those tools offer;
  • to encourage students to develop a critical awareness of the limitations of rational choice theory.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. A foundation in some of the key aspects of rational choice theory;
  2. an understanding of some potential applications of rational choice theory to political issues;
  3. an ability to write clearly and analytically making use of the relevant material to assess aspects of rational choice theory in a critical fashion;

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Information

1,500 word essay (25%) 3,000 word essay (75%)

Both assessments test all learning outcomes


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. POLI21203).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.