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Midterm 1 Questions and Answers

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Wilfrid Laurier University
Darryl Burgwin

1. Outline and discuss the importance of the concept of rationality in Weber’s work. * Weber focused his studies on understanding why modern Western societies became the way they did * his greatest principle of rationalization was the key to understanding development * used rationalization to describe the process which reality is increasing mastered by calculation, measurement and practical action * all spheres of society underwent this which led to modern societies * this term indicated a type of social development which modern societies took the historical form * all spheres of society were subject to this which led to the growth of modern society * it formed a control which was imposed on the external world * key principles and themes * 1) development in societies based on control of external reality * 2) stress on containment of everyday life by control * 3) use of calculation for social action * 4) freeing of social action from magical thought * 5) practical orientation to empirical reality * 6) use of technical and procedural reasoning to control everyday life * rationalization = process which nature, society and individual action are mastered by orientation to planning, technical procedure and rational action * modern Western societies reflected this in their laws, politics, science and commercial life * there were two trends in the historical development * 1) social and historical processes to become more reliant on calculation and technological knowledge to get control over social world * 2) human social action to free itself from a dependence on magical thinking to rely on what is immediately given w/o superstition * depends on 2 activities * 1) social action utilized to control empirical reality * 2) means and ends on action to attain necessary ends and selected goals * Weber also focused on how rationalization impacted the religious world views * did this by bringing change in regulation of economic conduct in the world * how different religious world views tended to advance rationalization or impede it * period after Protestant reformation when religious ethic placed its stamp on life - regulation as means of rationalization it - regulation as means of rationalization = methodic conduct * looked at problem of how rationalization was transferred from the sphere of religion to economic sphere * how effects of rationalization had ability to transfer empirical reality by placing a premium on “methodical life conduct” * 2 assumptions * 1) religious world produces rational outlook towards the world * 2) different religious orientations to outside world lead to different types of rational development in knowledge, science and art * the orientation society takes toward the outside world derives from religious world view 2. To what extent do rationalization and rational action depend on non-rational factors? · Marx blamed material factors responsible for the form modern Western society took, while Weber thought it was a more general social development, referred to this process as rationalization. · Rationalization involved organizing commercial practices and also calculating profits by accounting methods. · Rationalization was reflected in the system of law, politics, commerce and religion, and led to the rise of modern Western societies and the attitude toward the world they developed. · For example, rationalization was shown in the sphere of the state through the decline of absolute monarchies and the emergence of governance based on the principles of law and democracy. · Also, in the sphere of law, rationalization led to a system of decision-making based on universal legal principles and reasoning based on facts. · The concept of rationalization refers to two broad trends: 1. The tendency of social and historical processes to become more reliant on calculations and technical knowledge in order to obtain rational control over the natural and social world. 2. The tendency of human social action to free itself from a dependence on magical thinking or superstition in order to rely on empirical reality. · Success is calculated in terms of capital; relied heavily on calculation because the pursuit of profit led to more concern with the efficiency in commercial activity. · Weber: “everything is done in terms of balances. At the beginning of the enterprise an initial balance is taken, before every individual decision a calculation is made to ascertain its profitableness, and at the end a final balance is taken to ascertain how much profit has been made. To the extent that the transactions are rational, calculation underlies every single action” (p. 281) · Rationalization also has a role in changing the regulation of economic conduct; especially apparent in the religious ethic of economic life. · A religious worldview produces a certain orientation toward the outside world. · For example, in China, religion thwarted the rationalization process. Instead of advancing technical knowledge and an empirical reality, religion stressed a magical orientation to reality. · Similarly, in China, the development of science in health and of medicine was thwarted by religion and magical thinking because they relied on traditional medical practices such as acupuncture, because of the religious beliefs about the prohibition of surgical intrusion into the body. · Spiritual and religious obstacles obstructed the development of rational economic conduct in the world. · The rational regulation of life happens when a religious ethic forms linkages to technological and economic rationalism, which disposes of magical thinking and tradition. · Weber also thought that calculation played a large role in rationalization. Thus, non-rational factors, such as religion and magical thinking, create obstacles to the process of rationalization and in this way has a large influence on it. 2. To what extent do rationalization and rational action depend on non-rational factors? (Second answer) In Ken Morrison’s Book, he states that rationality and rationalization are two different definitions. Rationalization is the overall historical process by which reality is increasingly mastered by calculation, scientific knowledge and rational action. Rationality- used to refer to the capacity of social action to be subject to calculation of the means and ends of action by taking up a methodical orientation to reality. Rationality has four types; practical, theoretical, formal and substantive rationality. The first type is practical rationality. I t is defined as the orientation to reality that is based on what Weber called the methodical attainment of a practical end through increasingly precise calculation of adequate means. In this situation specific orientation to the world based on a methodical attainment of a practical end through increasingly precise calculation of adequate means. The second type of rationality discussed by Weber is theoretical or conceptual rationality. It imposes order on the world by a straightforward orientation to what is empirically given in reality and by precise calculation, theoretical rationality in imposes on reality by conceptual mastery of the wholes in term of unified concepts. Example science and math apply theoretical rationality by producing an image of the world by means of abstract concepts. Theoretical rationality therefore undertakes an orientation to reality in the realm of theory. The third type of rationality referred to by Weber is formal rationality. Weber used the term to designate the amount of quantitative calculation and accounting procedure that goes into an action or decision. Rationality may be thought of as formal where there is a view to expressing a situation an action by a straight forward application of number standards. Formal rationality is the amount of quantitative calculation and accounting procedure that goes into an act to ensure consistency of outcome and success. In this case, formal rationality creates an orientation to action stressing strict adherence to cost effective measures. The fourth type is substantive rationality. Weber’s action is shaped by an orientation to action in the sphere of values, regardless of the nature of the ends or outcome of action. Bound by criteria of ultimate value that are shaped by ethical norms of equality and justice over and against purely formal criteria of decision making based on cal. To obtain goals involves a commitment to values and to value scales in which the ends of action are ethical. He describes non-rational actions in terms of traditional, affective and value-rational actions. I believe that rational and rationalization heavily depends upon non rational factors 3. Outline and discuss Weber’s approach to the study of capitalism. How does it differ from Marx’s approach? Weber • Part of His work included looking at the protestant religious doctrine on the development of capitalism • He focused on comparative histories and traced the economic development of early agrarian societies by looking at England, France, China, Russia, India and Germany • Looked at economic patter in West vs. Economic patter in East o He compared characteristics of feudal economies of the countries in West and the countries in East o After doing the comparison he came to the conclusion that the origin of the Western manorial system could be traced back to three primary sources a) economic utility, b) military and political considerations, and c) social distinctions supporting prerogatives of a traditional aristocracy • He then turned his attention to the conditions leading to the decline of feudal economies and the rise of industrial production. While his discussion of these changes largely paralleled that of Marx, he pointed out that the process of decline began as landlords assumed rights of ownership over peasant holdings. He believed that capitalist development began as soon as landholders pushed peasants off the land and began to convert their holdings into sheep pastures. • For Weber, the transition to industrial capitalism took place in the main because of breakdown in political authority of the landlords rather than their monopolization of the means of production • Although he believed that economics played a role in capitalist development, ha also argued that there were non economic factors in capitalist development o The emergence of the system of rationality  What is central to this is the emergence of the dominance of quantitative reasoning in economic life. o The development of system of law  For commercial enterprises to operate rationally they must be able to depend on calculable adjudication and administration and for this to occur there must be a link between the sphere of economy and sphere of law o The emergence of new forms of citizenship  Key to development in capitalism because it underlined the fact that commerce was dependent on political and legal spheres o The rise of the gain spirit and the system of ethics corresponding to it  The relationship between capitalism and the religious sphere • He found that in the East, system of trade posed religious restrictions on the profit that could be gained by merchants • In the West he found that the Protestant religion also had an impact of how capitalism developed Marx vs Weber • Marx restricted his discussion of capitalism on the Western Societies, mainly England, while Weber western capitalism with the economies of the east and drew on the economic conditions of a number of countries including Germany, Russia, China, England and France. • Marx viewed capitalism as a necessary stage of economic development and believed that capitalism could only be understood by looking at hoe the productive forces in history led to class divisions in society. Weber disagreed that economic forces were the single most important determinants of capitalist development. Weber looked at capitalism as a system of social action and based his analysis on interconnections he saw between the development of capitalism and the influence of the religious, legal and political spheres in society • Marx believed that the development of capitalism was inevitable, and Weber thought that capitalism was the result of a number of historical accidents and that many of the influences affecting its development derived from spheres other than the economy. 4) According to Weber, what are social classes? How do they relate to capitalism and the operation of the market in society? Weber defined class as a “number of people having in common a specific casual component of life chances, insofar as this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income.” He expands on this definition by outlining the classes based on the market situation of the person. This can be achieved in two ways; by renting out property a person owns or by possessing intellectual property that can be exchanged for wealth. These classes are separated into people possessing usable property and people possessing the skills or degree. So far this theory is very similar to Marx’s factors of production; unlike Marx though, Weber did achieve a middle class comprised of people that don’t have usable property but they do have that intellectual property they can use to gain their own wealth. In modern class systems the worker has more rights and privileges giving them more ‘life chances’ to gain wealth, playing prominent roles in the formation and representation of political parties. The overall goal of citizens is to make money but not spend it; Weber called this asceticism and explained it as a type of self-denial seen in modern capitalism. The spirit of capitalism is made up of devotion to gaining excessive wealth, unrelieved toil and work of the individual and the avoidance of spending the wealth for personal enjoyment. Underlying these points to capitalism is the Protestant influence motivating people to work hard as to be noticed by God, this work ethic naturally leads to increases in wealth. This wealth though is not to be spent on personal satisfaction as that would represent different motives; the individual would not ‘stand out’ from the rest of society. This hard work but denial of one’s own wealth can be related to the classes as it shows the motivation behind each class. The individuals with the usable property have a motivation to gain as much wealth as they possibly can while not expending much of their intellectual wealth; this covers two out of the three spirits of capitalism. The middle class with their intellectual property of skills and degrees put themselves in a state of labour and hard work to gain more wealth then they need, this hard work is an exchange for wealth. The middle class would then be in such a state of hard labour that they would not have the time or the want to spend the wealth that they have accumulated. This market operates as the upper class owning the usable property being the individuals to plan out the work that needs to be done by the individuals with the intellectual property, the middle class, in order to gain their new wealth. In a market such as this efficiency is high with all the hard work and the separation of the classes helps organize a system to accomplish such goals of each individual. Society is divided into distinct social sphere, none being more dominant than another. Believed that many changes happening were in the social rather than economic field Second classification that has to do with the relation between social classes and market situation is from the perspective of historical types of class struggle. Weber argued against Marx’s belief that class struggle would become more prominent as capitalist developed. However he says that class struggle has evolved from competition and inequality to refered wage disputes on the market. Played a central role to the role which he working class has played in the formation of political parties and in the representation they obtain in the party 5. What are status group and political group, how do they relate to classes, and influence society? Status groups according to Weber the second form of social adjustment, are when social groups were formed, during the late modern period. He makes distinctions between class and status to show that groups can be formed on “status considerations”, or by social class according to the economy. Status can be defined as a group that forms in society based on consumption of products, and the specific lifestyle that qualify one as a member, and is based on prestige and honour. There are two main assumptions of status groups, the activities by means of which groups set themselves apart from other groups, and the badges and insignias employed in defining the status group in relation to other groups and prestige in the group. Status groups are not necessarily concerned with acquisition of wealth but more lifestyle and evaluations, AND CONSUMPTION, rather than acquisition for social classes. Social class is based in the economic sphere and revolves around the ownership of property, and wealth as opposed to lifestyle. One type of social group is a strata which holds absolute power over dress, habits, tastes and profession. The main characteristics about status groups, outlined by Weber, First is social honour, and that people are constantly being evaluated either negatively or positively on their status honour within their status group. Second is that status groups separate themselves from others by restricting access to those only with the necessary qualifications. Third, they acquire badges and commodities to which honour is assigned. Fourth they often take over privileges by stopping others from having those commodities which bestow honour. Political groups or “parties” constitute the third form of social adjustment, which belong in the Political instead of economic sphere. Parties have two main kinds of activities, acquisition and power, and influencing the actions of other for the purpose of politics. The political parties are able to absorb some of the class struggle as they are there to separate the status and economic sphere of society. Political parties relate to class in that they are separate spheres, and politics is to represent people in all class groups, not just the small minority who own the means of production. Politics, gives the lower class a voice, in some way to be heard above the market. However Politics is not safe from the influence of the market and materialistic values. Higher classes can have their needs met through their economic power, given them an advantage over lowers social classes. Status groups and social groups have a massive impact on society. Status groups are seen all over the world. The caste system of India is a legally imposed status system that determines completely one’s way of life such as clothing and work. And the political system mirrors the class struggles we see in society, by aligning themselves according to the different social classes in society. 6. What is the spirit of capitalism? What is the Protestant ethic? According to Weber, how are they related? Spirit of Capitalism- Weber noted the Western notion of capitalism (compared to other moneymaking and economies of wealth) was alone in developing a central philosophy or “spirit”. This was identified by three overriding demands. 1) the devotion to gathering wealth and profit beyond personal needs and wants 2) the commitment to constant toil and work coupled with self denial and the rejection of luxury and excess 3) the use of personal restraint in the world and the avoidance of the use of wealth for private enjoyment Weber believes this “ethical spirit” shaped Western capitalism as an economic way of life. He showed how this “spirit” manifested itself in economic life by looking at the work of Benjamin Franklin, whom he believed represented the characteristics of the “spirit of capitalism”. Franklin wrote many works on how to be successful in business, and Weber was drawn to this because of his demand for promptness, prudence, honesty and saving within the context of a proclaimed ethical duty to earn more and more capital. Weber thought Franklin was someone to look up to because he believed the system of capital must be done in an ethical way, based upon the religious sphere. He believed these suggestions refer to a specific “ethic” or “spirit” and taken on the characteristics of ethically shaping the conduct of life. He believed these requests from Franklin carried a surplus of religious virtue. Weber found it was clear that the spirit of capitalism had the effect of putting forward the expectation of hard work, restraint in life conduct, and the pursuit of wealth as a moral duty, and in doing so, it made the non performance of work and the absence of restraint an infraction of such duty. Weber found this idea of “hard work” a new idea that had not been seen in other economies and forms of capitalism. Therefore, the “spirit of capitalism” can then be defined as the imposition of religious maxims onto everyday economic activity, which had not been seen before in previous systems of moneymaking. This also became a method for regulating life conduct in the world and of controlling one’s relation to the material world through asceticism and conscious self-denial. Protestant Ethic- Weber wrote “The Protestant Ethic” in 1903. Weber had two central concerns in writing the Protestant Ethic. 1) he wanted to show how beliefs influence action, and to establish a connection between patterns of belief and a system of social action 2) he wanted to show that there was a connection between religion and commerce and that capitalism was largely shaped by religious forces Weber begins by making two pivotal observations. First, Weber notes that all commercial centers throughout Europe had demonstrated intense commercial activity at the same time that Protestantism began to take hold in central Europe. Second, Weber notes that Western capitalism is motivated by two kinds of activities: on the one hand, a devotion to amassing wealth beyond the personal needs of the individual and, on the other, the avoidance of the use of income for personal pleasure or enjoyment. When we look at capitalism, says Weber, we see not only moneymaking and efficient production but also asceticism and an ascetic attitude toward life. These two characteristics led Weber to argue that asceticism underlies capitalism. Asceticism, according to Weber, is a way of living in the world in which the individual practices self-denial for some future reward or end. Asceticism is a form of discipline applied to the self as a means of attaining some end. Weber believes that in modern capitalism self-denial has become a category of action since only in those societies where capitalism flourished is asceticism linked to achievement. 7. From Weber’s point of view: what is social action? What is the role of interpretation in sociology? Weber’s Theory of Social Action - The term social action derives from the body of Weber’s work which concerned itself with developing a theory for making valid judgments about the decisions individuals make in their actions with others in a social environment. - “Sociology is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of human social action” - He believed that natural and social sciences were completely different – this being said natural sciences were studied objects and events in the outer world, while social sciences studied human social action within society. - Weber said they must interpret the actions of others before they can decide how to act - Weber thought that the development of the theory of social action as necessary for sociology to become a m
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