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SOCY 122 (65)

Weber and the Interpretive Understanding of Social Action

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Queen's University
SOCY 122
Rob Beamish

Weber and the Interpretive Understanding of Social Action -sociology involves the development of a comprehensive understanding of social action-> sociologists must assume an interpretive position which involves either trying to understand the meaning the person carrying out the action might be intending or what meaning a person’s actions might convert to others- sometimes involves both -social life is the product of meaningful social action -Social action can be understood as: -Hermeneutics- understanding the meaning -Positivism- causal explanation of empirically observable conditions -sociologist must develop an interpretive understanding of the social world from the perspective of human agents involved in it and then locate the meaningful action within the broader social framework within which it developed -Understanding involves the interpretive grasp: -actually intended meaning for the specific action (historically) -average of the actually intended meaning (observation) -meaning appropriate to a pure type (an ideal types) of a common phenomenon -Weber is similar to Mills -religion is implicated in all major spheres of society and culture Ascetic- self-discipline and avoidance of temptations through devotion of labour dominated people’s life Capitalism- employers and workers more likely to dedicate themselves to the program of capitalistic enterprise free of the distractions of the world outside the factory, the workshop, or the firm -now motivation to work is to support a more prosperous and materialistic lifestyle Competing and Mutually Exclusive Methods Historical School-the work of historians, economists, and other social analysts involved the collection of facts pertinent to any and all events in social life -ideographic view -concentrate on the unique nature of each event -Eduard Meyer, Rudolf Stammler, Wilhelm Roscher, Karl Knies Historical Materialism-Marx, Engels, August Bebel, Eduard Bernstein, and Karl Kautsky -Scholarship- specific facts of unique historical events -historical school opposes that dialectical laws of social life explain and lead to a succession of modes of production and that the succession leads to communism Hegelian-Marxist Critique-Karl Korsch, Georg Lukacs, and Antonio Labriola -supports that history can unfold in a particular direction due to the internal contradictions of different modes of production but they aren’t sufficient to create change or to guide it towards a higher stage of history -Hegelian heritage in Marx’s work- consciousness is a key factor in the historical process- one that Marx discounts too much -consciousness and ideology are one of the material constituents of social history and that one has to examine the ways in humankind within different social formation -important in Weber -Weber targets the historical school and accepts certain aspects of historical materialist but argues that consciousness and the formation of human understanding in the social world cannot be reduced solely to the economic base Weber and the Methodology of Social Sciences Weber’s critique of Stammler: -argues that Stammlers misrepresents key aspects of historical materialism and proceeds to attack it -how complex questions of method are and on the need to explore them with great care and precision -methodological pestilence is beginning to prevail in social science Weber critique of Mayer- sociologists have to refine their methodology through their investigations of people’s real lived experiences and not through abstract argument Ideal or Pure Type Ideal Type-captures meaning -instruments for representing the most relevant aspects of a given object -characterized as methodological, individualism, atomism, constructivism, or nominalism Abstraction-Weber, Marx, Durkheim, Bacon, Galileo, and Hume -develop generalized knowledge that begins with detailed observations of the empirical world and identifies generalized trends, which may become universal laws Scholarship-key is the development of the most widely applicable knowledge possible -natural science’s goal is the universal applicable knowledge -social science’s goal is to discover universal laws (Bacon and Galileo) or achieve generalized knowledge (Weber, Marx, and Durkheim) -Weber differs from Durkheim, Galileo, and Bacon and believes that sociologists must develop an interpretive understanding of social action Four distinct goals of pure types: Goal-Rational Action- mentally calculated action- aimed to achieve a particular goal Value-Rational Action- guided by a particular value or belief Affective/Emotional Action- action guided by desires and emotions Traditional Action- actions guided by dictates of tradition Science and Ethics Goal-Rational Action -goal of science is to produce propositions of fact and statements of causality -goal of social science is to produce comprehensive interpretations of social action Value-Rational Action-committed to a specific value -scientific action is committed to the value of truths demonstrated by universally valid facts or arguments Problems: -science cannot be considered a universal valid truth because of religion -the world is infinite and complex and can ever be fully known -cannot lead to absolute knowledge -science has its limits Charisma -qualities of those who possess or are believed to possess powers of leadership either as a virtue of exceptional personality or derived from some unusual inspiration -source of instability and innovation -constitutes a dynamic element in social change -Weber believed at each turning point of society’s development it can undergo transformation in established order or existing order would be reinforced -pure charisma is rare McDonaldizat
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