Good Max Weber’s Social Action Theory Critiqued By Talcott Parsons Argumentative Essay Example
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Such sociological categories as "social action", "social interaction" and "social relations" occupy quite a special place in the conceptual and categorical context of social sciences. There should be mentioned that the beginning of the sociological research of the social action can be attributed to the famous German sociologist Max Weber who also formulated assumptions of the theory of social action, which then further elaborated in the works of other researchers such as Talcott Parsons and a number of other structural functionalists. In general Weber defines sociology as a science that studies the social action, under which he meant any act of human-oriented motives. In addition, according to Weber, people have to rationalize their actions each not taking into consideration the previous experience. Weber’s theory of the social action was under various interpretations. Nevertheless, the greatest contribution to the development of the Weber’s theory was made by Talcott Parsons and in order to estimate the influence of Parsons’ theory on the Weber’s conception, it would be correct to distinguish the main ideas of the Weber’s works.
In order to answer the question of how the notion of “ideal type” can be implemented into the context of the theory of the rational action, there should be introduced another fundamental concept of Weber’s sociology namely the category of “understanding.” There should be noted that it is the need to understand the subject of Weber’s research, according to Weber who distinguishes sociology of science. In fact, sociology examines the behavior of the individual as a personality which is connected to the human action which defines the meaning. Thus, the sociological concept of action can be introduced by each person through the concept of content. That is why, sociology should focus on the effect of an individual or group of individuals. The most "conceptual" term which is highlighted in all Weber’s works is the meaningful action, and that certain action is aimed at achieving the perceived current individual goals and in this way, using for this purpose means being appropriate by the most active individuals.
The second type which was taken into consideration by Weber is the value-rational action meaning a conscious belief in ethical, religious or any other meaningful absolute values of certain conduct which are taken as such which are just independent of an ultimate success. The third type and the fourth are rarely mentioned, though they are not less significant and these types are called the emotional one and the traditional one and can be estimated through the actual emotions and feelings of the human and the traditions themselves.
The last two types of actions are not, according to Weber, such social actions which in the literal sense suit us as people are not dealing with something conscious and it lies is the basis of content. That is why, only the value-rational action and instrumentally rational action - are social actions in the sense and spirit of Weber, where the main role is undoubtedly played by an instrumentally rational action. What is more, Weber believes that the rationalization of social action in general is the tendency of the historical process. Thus, one of the essential components of "rationalization" of action is to somehow replace the internal attachment common mores and traditions which planned adaptation to understandings of interest. In addition, there is a displacement value-rational behavior in favor of instrumentally rational, in which has not believe in the value and success. Rationalization is thus understood as the fate of Western civilization.
According to Parsons, it is important to solve such problems as the ratio of the individual actions of the personal interests and needs of society. Parsons argues that the effect of the individual is conscious, but he builds it, based on values, principles and norms of social behavior. Thus, human activity depends on three factors social dimension based on certain established social order, social norms, personal dimension, which are based on the realization of social subjects of their own actions and the cultural dimension.
In fact, the existence of the past is a prerequisite for stable functioning of social systems as cultural values taken by a person enables to take mandatory rules of behavior safely within the social system. Under this system, the fundamental social values should be individual ones that are the foundation of social action. That is why the breakthrough of the Parsons’ work consists in his claim that exclusively under the mentioned above conditions there can be achieved a stable functioning of social systems and an ultimate goal is to reach social equilibrium. However, as is proved by Parsons, social system should also have means of social control over the actions of actors that should work against the violation of the social balance. Having made a great contribution to the development of the theory of the social system and balance, Parsons thus tried to diminish the value of social dynamics, social contradictions and conflicts, for which his later concepts resisted numerous criticisms and especially from the supporters of the theory of social conflict.
Via the accent on the transformation, the actions of the individuals are considered not as the objects of the analysis but as the initial condition of the control under the structural mechanisms. In this case the difference between the Parsons’ and Weber’s concepts becomes clear and Parsons on his own has not aimed at transferring of the text, though he wanted to explicit the mechanism which combined micro level ( individual one ) and macro level which is put into the collective context.
In fact, based exactly on the theory of Weber’s social action, Talcott Parsons becomes interested in such research issues such as social actions which are dependent on the individual situation, social norms accepted by society and the actions of other individuals. Thus, in order to get more acquainted with the Weber’s theory, Parsons try to interpret Weber’s works in another way and claims that the “true” Weber is a little bit another and the problem of the right interpretation of the German texts does not allow other theorists to dig deeper to the problematic which was touched by Weber. This period of revaluation of the Weber’s heritage by Parsons is usually called as “return to Weber”.
Kalberg, S. (1980). Max Weber's Types of Rationality: Conerstones for the Analysis of Rationalization Processes in History. American Journal of Sociology, p.1145-1179.
Trevino, J. ( 2001). Talcott Parsons Today. His Theory and Legacy in Contemporary Sociology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., p. 22-40.
Cohen, J. (1975). De-Parsonizing Weber: A Critiqueof Parsons’ Interpretation of Weber’s Sociology. American Sociological Review, p.229-241.
Silver, D. (2011). Social Dimensions of Action in Classical Sociological Theory. The Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt, p. 3-15.
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