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Chapter 6

SOC260 Chapter Notes - Chapter 6: Symbolic Interactionism, Tradition, Instrumental And Value-Rational Action

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stephen speake

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Chapter 6: Actors and Agency
Social mobility: the process of moving between status positions in society (involves variability in opportunities,
occupations, education, generational, etc.,).
Relative mobility (AKA social fluidity): an estimate of the chance of upward or downward movement for a
member of one social class in comparison with a member from another social class.
*Individual as opposed to structural explanations oversimplify the processes through which indivs. Either
challenge or comply w/ structural circumstances of their lives.
Action: meaningful human behaviour from the p.o.v. of the actor or actors involved (at the individual
Symbolic Interactionism
Analysis of interactions and how they are symbolic
People define and evaluate themselves based on how they think others view them
We imagine ourselves in other social roles
We learn appropriate and inappropriate forms of behaviour through role-playing
Action is related to other individual-level components (self, identity, meaning…)
Actors & actions are very important
Objective of sociology = to interpret social action through causal explanations
Actors/agents= indivs. Who take part in meaningful/intentional action
o Meaningful human behaviour from the p.o.v. of the actor/actors involved
o Can be internal (e.g. justifying something) or external
o Also includes having something done TO you (e.g. someone give syou flowers)
Social actions
o Action that is meaningful only in RELATION to another person’s behaviour
o 2 cyclists example (negotiationargument, resolution, etc).
o also includes deciding NOT to act or being acted upon
4 IDEAL TYPES of Action & Social Action:
o Traditional action
Actions that take place b/c they are habitual and have taken place before
o Affectual action
The things people do to display emotions
o Zwekrational (instrumental) action
Appropriate actions that individuals engage in while deciding how they can attain
something and whether it is worth attaining
Logical and thought out
o Wertrational (value-rational) action
Action performed to attain a goal rather than the means through which the goal can be
Actor doesn’t logically evaluate, just acts out of conviction

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**an individuals behaviour can consist of more than one type of action at the same time**
Drawing on Weber but expanding
Theory of social inaction where motivation and values determine action
People are naturally capable of making choices
People behaviour rationally to attain their goals
Actors make conscious decisions to attain goals
Values and motives determine the type of action indviduals engage in
1) Instrumental action
Action that allows people to achieve a particular goal efficiently
2) Expressive action
What people do to attain emotional satisfaction
3) Moral action
Behaviour that is concerned w/ the standards of right and wrong
What distinguishes diff. acts from each other has nothing to do w/ the act itself, but rather w/ how
agents are orientated to the act
1) Instrumental/strategic action
Instrumental: Actions when people are striving for success in the PHYSICAL world
Strategic: actions when people are striving for success that takes social context into
2) Normatively regulated action
When indivs. Take norms into account before acting
3) Dramaturgical action
Individuals actions are affected by concern about how they appear to others
4) Communicative action
Needs for mutual understanding
Actions people engage in to make themselves understood/understand
Key ideas from Parsons, Weber, & Habermas:
Part of being human is the capacity to make intentional choices
Action is not simply the act of doing but also the act of NOT doing or having something done to you
There is a RATIONAL component to action: people calculate the potential rewards & sanctions of their
There is also a NON-RATIONAL component to action: people act in traditional, normative, and affectual
ways w/out rationalizing their lives
Any particular act may represent more than one type of action
People act within a social structure that constrains and orientates them
Agency: structures are composed of individuals who engage with social structure and can initiate structural
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