The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

GC Events

April 12 Civil Society Workshop: “Bounded Relationality”

Join us for the Civil Society Workshop presentation by Katherine Chen, Associate Professor, Sociology, City College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, “Bounded Relationality: How Governmental, Human Service, and Advocacy Organizations Create Consumers – and Elicit Relational Work – in the Social Insurance Market”, on Thursday, April 12, at 12:30 pm in room 6107.


Using observations of US advocacy, human service, and governmental organizations’ talks on social insurance, Professor Chen shows how market exchanges are facilitated by what she calls bounded relationality.  This concept synthesizes (1) Simon’s bounded rationality, which describes how organizations ease people’s difficulties with decision-making and (2) Zelizer’s relational work, which emphasizes how social relations animate market exchanges.  The studied organizations attempted to acculturate older adults and their agents – social workers, health care workers, advocates, and caregivers – to three consumer roles in the neoliberalized market: “information-gathering and processing consumers,” “savvy information-seekers,” and “watchful monitors.”   However, discussions among audiences revealed disjunctures between these expected consumer roles and people’s actions, revealing people’s reliance upon relational work to ease complex decision-making.  Professor Chen argues that markets depend upon bounded relationality in which organizations and social relations help people make complex exchanges.


The Civil Society Workshop is an interdisciplinary space for students and faculty to present research in progress on activism, associations, interest groups, international aid, nonprofits, NGOs, philanthropy and social movements. Join us on Thursdays at 12:30 for other workshops in our Spring 2018 schedule.