Why Did Weber Suggest That Sociologists Should Study Social Action?

1193 words - 5 pages

The general theme that surrounds the ‘Social Action’ approach is the rejection of the idea that society is seen to be a well oiled mechanism that influences individuals to behaviour in a pre-defined manner, though it cannot be denied that a ‘social structure’ does exist, but Weber and various other social action theorists, argue that its whole existence, that is society, stems directly from the interventions of the individuals that are at the root of this structure. In adopting this viewpoint, Weber believed that sociologist should focus their attentions on the comprehension of individual human behavioural patterns, in order to uncover a meaning (Haralambos et al. 2004). It was in his 1920s publication ‘Economy and Society’ that Weber wrote “Sociology is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its cause and consequences” (Haralambos et al. 2004, p953).

Weber believed that for any act to be considered a social action, it was important that it had a sense, consequently, through interaction with another person, an individual’s behaviour would be influenced and the outcome altered, this hypothesis strengthens Weber’s perspective, that it is the individual that shapes the world around him and not the world that shapes the individual (Haralambos et al. 2004). For instance, when an individual carrying a pile of books and one of them accidently falls from the stack, this cannot be classed as a social action, whereas, if the book fell as a result of the person attempting to avoid another individual walking towards him, due to the interplay that has occurred, this would be classified as social action (Weber, 1978).

In the 1947 publication ‘Theory of Social and Economic Organisation’, Weber proposed that the understanding or meaning that were central to his social action perspective, may take one of two forms, which were intituled respectively ‘aktuelles verstehen’ and ‘erklarendes verstehen’ (Eldridge, 1972). Aktuelles verstehen can be understood as direct operational understanding, in the sense that it is possible to comprehend a situation through examination, thus when observing an individual kneading some dough, it is plausible to come to the conclusion that the individual in question is in the process of producing a loaf of bread, Weber agrees on this viewpoint, but argues that this is inadequate in explaining the nature of social action. The second form erklarendes verstehen or explanatory understanding requires that the sociologist takes a more profound approach; hence it is necessary to comprehend the motivation that was the catalyst for the act in question, in order to give it any meaning. Therefore for Weber, it is imperative that factors such as, is the individual a baker, is this a work based task or simply recreational, in order to attain this level of understanding, it is necessary to take the place of the individual, taking on their role, thus...

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