Strauss K, 2009, "Cognition, context, and multimethod approaches to economic decision making" Environment and Planning A 41(2) 302 – 317
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Cognition, context, and multimethod approaches to economic decision making
Received 2 January 2008; in revised form 12 August 2008
Abstract. Research in behavioural economics, as in economic geography, seeks to address fundamental questions about cognition, the status of human rationality, and social-cum-spatial structure in economic decision making. Critiques of the ‘strong’ model of economic rationality that underpins models of behaviour in orthodox economics by those working under the rubric of the former, such as Thaler and Sunstein, are gaining the attention of politicians and policy makers. Yet the ‘limits to rationality’ thesis nevertheless lacks a credible appreciation of the diversity of social life and the significance of context in framing behaviour. Economic geography, while taking seriously the issues of the coconstitution of culture and economy and the relational nature of economic decision making, has moved away from behaviouralism at a time when critical approaches are arguably more salient than ever. I put forward the argument for an engagement with behavioural economic approaches to decision making while critically examining the need for multimethod approach that can accommodate quantitative, statistical, and experimental approaches and qualitative work that takes seriously social identity and attributes including gender, age, social class, and aspirations. The challenge of theorising the social context in which choices are made is discussed with reference to Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, and three exemplars are used to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of different methodological approaches. Herbert Simon’s metaphor, which conceptualises the decision-making moment as a pair of scissors, is suggested as a way of thinking about the intersection between cognition and the decision-making environment.
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