Max Weber, a German economist and sociologist is considered to be one of the most significant classical theorists because his methods that are still being implemented into modern sociological research. Weber is best known for his essay, The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, as well as being highly regarded for his ideas on bureaucracy, his study on class, status and party, and for his theory of social action., Almost all of Weber's writing's have had some kind, if not, a major impact on modern sociology.
Weber believed that sociologists can learn to understand the actions of individuals and groups. This type of understanding is known as verstehen or "interpretive understanding" (E & A p. 138). Verstehen was Weber's main method of sociological analysis. He saw sociology as being a unique discipline because of its ability to be able to understand people. Weber saw this as an advantage over other disciplines, like science, which doesn't provide the same level of understanding. Weber thought Sociologists should use the concept of verstehen to explain actions. In sociology, action can be either basic action (with meaning), or it can be a more complex social action, a term Weber introduced, meaning an action that not only has meaning but is directed at humans and generates a response. It is the goal of the sociologist to recognize the meanings that individuals give to their actions and to determine the significance that the actions holds in the individuals' society or culture (E & A p.138). Weber categorizes four types of social action: instrumental-rational, value-rational, affective, and traditional. Instrumental-rational action is the pursuit of goals where the goal and the means to obtaining the goal are calculated to identify the positive and negative aspects associated with the completion of the goal. Rational means justify a rational end in this type of action. Value-rational action is Weber's second type of social action. This action is also characterized by the pursuit of a goal, but the goal is an end to itself. The goal may not be rational, but it is pursued by rational action using value judgment to do what is right in accordance to one's moral code. The third type is affective action, which occurs instinctively without any prior thought process. This type describes natural reactions that people have based on human emotion. Weber's fourth type is traditional action. This is the continuation of traditions throughout history. In this action a person's main objective is to follow past customs, not to fulfill a personal goal. Webber is considered by many as being a value free sociologist, but this is not the case. In fact, Weber does not believe in being value-free. Being value free meant that one objectively conducts and presents sociologic research, holding all sides of the research on equal levels without showing any bias. Weber believes that one should allow personal interests lead them towards choosing a research, this is considered value-relevance, but once research has started the researcher needs to be objective, he calls this value-neutrality, which Weber thought researchers should strive for. A constant theme displayed throughout Weber's, work is his idea of rationalization. He uses rationalization to describe the increased efficiency, calculability, and control in social systems, where traditional methods and values were replaced by a means to an end analysis. Rationalization leads to "disenchantment of the world", where surprises diminish because of increased calculability (E & A p.142).Weber's idea of rationality is very broad, but Stephen Kalberg is able to decipher Weber's different meanings. He creates four categories of rationality: practical rationality, theoretical rationality, substantive rationality and formal rationality (R & G p.220-21). Practical rationality describes individuals who look for the best course of action in order to achieve ends. Theoretical rationality is where...
Bibliography: Edles, D. Laura., Appelrouth, Scott. Sociological Theory in the Classical Era. 2005
Ritzer, George., Goodman, Douglas. Classical Sociological Theory: fourth edition. 2004
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