Society in Max Weber's eyes consists of actions of the individuals. Weber believed that actions of individuals are what form society and the basis of sociology. Humans are aware of their surroundings and naturaly create different situations.
The actions of individuals are “Behaviour with a subjective meaning” meaning the action is done with intention and meaning. Social action according to Weber is done consciously, aware of the presence of others, and directed to a specific goal. In order to understand and differentiate the individuals social action, Weber created four major theories:
Traditional social action: Actions influenced by tradition or ingrained habits. Traditional action is often done without thinking and comes naturally, for instance tying once shoelaces.
Affectual social action: Driven by a persons emotions. Affectual action is divided into emotional tension and uncontrolled reaction where uncontrollable reaction is unmanageable and emotional tension is more controllable and not as obvious to the surrounding individuals.
Value rational action: Driven by values, religious beliefs and ideas. This action is independent of the effects of the decision and is determined by value. Engaging in interests and actvities that one enjoys and value. Following once ideal is also a value rational action.
Instrumentally rational action: Determined by actions to attain a certain goal. The purpose of instrumentally rational action is to “work out the means to meet an end”. Instrumentally rational actions are decided by the cost and outcome.
Weber believed that society is made up by these actions. These types of action that Weber created gives a better understanding of how society is built and how these actions affect the function of society. A clearer picture is given of how society to a degree affects individuals and how individuals affect their society. One of the key ideas to understand behaviour was described by Weber as “Verstehent”, an aim to understands behaviour by imagining oneself in someone else's shoes. What Weber wanted to understand, among other things, was legitimacy, who had the authority and governing position in society and why. What made individuals justify domination? What are the different ways of domination?
One way of justifying authority was through tradition. Individuals were not likely to question this form of domination since traditional ways are trusted and have been adjusted to for a long period of time.
Charismatic leadership is another example of how authority is justified in society. People within society can have an emotional and religious attachment to this leader.
Rational-legal authority is the belief that authority and power is supported by the law and rationality. This authority seems logical and right to the individual.
Most authorities enhibit a mixture of charismatic, traditional and rational-legal traits. These are all different theories that answer the question of why people act and respond to authority and if the individual actually has a free will when it comes to action in society. One set of actions could predict and cause another action. In Weber,'s eyes, rationalisation set the basis for a capitalist society and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy and rationalisation went hand in hand and led society to become more and more devoted to rules and less of their own desires. The Protestant ethic contributed to the rationalisation and bureacracy of the time by their “ascetic” work ethic that work was a moral duty. Actions went from affectual and traditional, to a more rational viewed society.
Out of the four types of actions, it was the rational actions that started to dominate society. Even though traditions, beliefs and religion still existed in society, people started to think for them selves and searched for an easy, effectiv way to meet an end. A instrumental acting society meant a society based on laws, rules and authority. The most effective way of producing was calculated ,as well as the most efficient way of reaching a goal. Society became more predictable. Traditional and affctual values became more rational so to speak. The rational society gave birth to what Weber called the “Iron Cage”, a more dehumanized society.
Weber wanted to study the reasons individuals had for their actions. What influenced people in society and what forms authority. He was intrested in the new society that hade taken place and how it differed from other societis in the past. Webers action theory states the different ways in which individuals act and behave within society. His studies have shown that a change in modern society was the ability of people to think on their own. In previous societies, individuals were less objective and more dependent on religion and the whole social norm. In relation to individuals becoming more literate and gaining more knowledge, individuals came to think in a more rational way than before.
Weber emphasizes individuals and their independent ideas in society. He believed that people had a world view and were able to think for their own and make their own opinion. Unlike other sociologists before him, Weber saw values and beliefs as determining class in society. It is cruical to understand individuals in society and see society through their percpective to be able to get a true picture of society. Society was based upon individuals ideas and new way of acting and thinking. It is the actions and thoughts of humans that form society, not society that forms the ideas and behaviour of humans.