SOC 2280 Lecture Notes - Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Class Conflict
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Max Weber (1864-1920)
- Weber pushed for “value-free” (i.e., objective and impartial) sociological methods. He believed that the
methodology of the natural sciences (positivism) could be applied to the study of humanity; however, it
does not generally permit us to ask the kinds of questions we would want to ask as sociologists. For
Weber, sociology responds to hermeneutic (i.e., interpretivist) rather than instrumental interests.
- Weber believed that ideal types were indispensable for the sociologist because they make social reality
tractable for the investigator. An ideal type involves the development of the usual, typical, or most
complete features of a phenomenon in order to facilitate comparison and analysis. Weber stressed that
ideal types were “one-sided” and “partial” descriptions of reality. Ideal typification permits the
sociologist to summarize and abstract subjective meaning and then to search for an explanation that is
- In Weber’s well-known study, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, his ideal typifications of
this “ethic” and “spirit” enabled him to suggest a causal connection between the two. This causal
connection is tested by making comparative analyses of those societies in which the spirit of capitalism
is to be found and those in which it is absent. Weber claimed that the Protestant ethic (focusing on
thrift, asceticism, and hard work) was unique to those societies that embodied the spirit of capitalism.
- At the heart of Weber’s sociology is an investigation of the consequences of types of social action and a
study of how these types of action come into conflict and create tension for specific individuals. His four
main types of social action are:
a) Rationally Purposeful Action – entails a complicated plurality of means and ends. The ends of action
(e.g., goals, values) are either taken as means to the fulfillment of other ends, or are treated as if they
are set in concrete. Thus, action is seen as purely instrumental.
b) Value-rational Action – occurs when individuals use rational (i.e., effective) means to achieve goals or
ends that are defined in terms of subjectively meaningful values.
c) Affective Action – fuses means and ends together so that action becomes emotional and impulsive.
This action is the antithesis of rationality because the actor can not make a calm, dispassionate
assessment of the relationship between the ends of action and the means that, supposedly, exist to
serve these ends. Rather, the means are emotionally fulfilling and become ends in themselves (e.g., a
golfer who smashes his clubs because he failed to play well).
d) Traditional Action – occurs when the ends and the means of action are fixed by custom and tradition.
The ends of action are taken for granted and appear to be natural to the actors concerned.
5) Karl Marx (1818-1883)