SPT: Max Weber (1864-1920)
Max Weber’s work had a profound influence on twentieth century social and political theory. In this lecture, we will consider Weber’s methodological approach, before turning to his account of modernity, bureaucracy and the state. First, the context of Weber’s work.
Context. Weber is often regarded as the most important of the founders of modern social theory and sociology. But questions of politics were at the centre of his work. He was born shortly before the political unification of Germany as an Empire, and concerns about the political strength of the German state occupy his thinking throughout. Weber’s insights in to social theory, then, are informed by this focus on the place of Germany within a modernity characterised by the rise of rational capitalism, bureaucracy and the decline of religious beliefs and practices (disenchantment and secularization).
Weber started out as a professional academic in Berlin, with a focus not on sociology but on law, economics, and history. He was associated with the German ‘Historical School’ of economics which saw history, rather than abstract mathematical models, as being central to the study of economics. Weber’s early work looked at questions about economic and social organization in ancient society – e.g. why the Roman Empire declined rather than turning into a thriving capitalist economy. But Weber was also influenced by various currents of philosophical thought that made him turn to the question of methodology – how we should best go about the study of history and of social change. This led to his ideal-typical method.
Weber’s ideal typical method, was a way of trying to account for social and political phenomena without falling into the traps of evolutionism, historicism and positivism. For Weber, we can detect patterns or trends in history, but no overall pattern or monocausal theory of development (so against ‘crude’ Marxism which explains all social phenomena by...
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