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Student: JERONIMO O.

MUNIZ
6th Review Essay

Professor Mustafa Emirbayer
Intermediate Sociology Theory – SOC 773

Max Weber, Rationalization and the Modern Society
Max Weber considered sociology as a science of social action. For him, social and
historical situations should be understood looking at concrete acting persons. Defining action as
any human behavior to which individuals attach subjective meaning, and social action as
behaviors oriented to the behaviors of others, he distinguished four types of social action: goaloriented or instrumental rational action (zweckrational); value-oriented rational action
(wertrational); actions based on affective or emotional motivations; and traditional action.
Instrumental rationality implies that both ends and means are rationally chosen taking into
account “expectations as to the behavior of objects in the environment and of other human
beings” (24). Value-oriented rationality is “determined by a conscious belief in the value for its
own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other form of behavior, independently of its
prospects of success” (25). Affective action is based in the emotional state of the actor rather
than in the rational weighting of means and ends. “It may, for instance, consist in an uncontrolled
reaction to some exceptional stimulus” (25). Finally, traditional action is guided by customary
habits of thought. It is a behavior based on imitation where behaviors are guided by an
“automatic reaction to habitual stimuli”; the behavior of members in a religious ritual or
congregation might serve as an example of this type of action.
Weber developed a typology of social actions because social phenomena should be
understood looking at the motives of social actors. More specifically, he used the strategy of
‘rationalization’ to understand why modern Western societies were different from past Eastern
civilizations. He believed that cultural, political, economic and scientific differences between the
Occident and the Orient were a result of how people rationalized their actions. For him, the
rationality of Western cultures was distinct because it was goal-oriented, whereas in earlier
periods it tended to be motivated by emotions, tradition and values. Weber argued that as the
values of the modern society evolved through the acquisition of knowledge, religious motives
would weaken and rationality would arise as the main factor leading actors’ behaviors. In other
words, “the development of inner- and other- worldly values towards rationality, towards
conscious endeavor, and towards sublimation by knowledge” (328) would increase the ‘level of
tension’ between religion and other spheres in society (economic, political, esthetic, erotic,
intellectual) and lead to shifts in motivations driven by the rationalization of the world. Fields
like science, military training, law and administration were all rationalized in terms of different
values and ends in the West. “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and
intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’” (155).
To think and explain social actions, besides the concept of rationalization, Weber also
developed the notion of ‘ideal type’. The motivation behind the ‘ideal type’ was that reality was
hard to explain without being influenced by subjective values of the investigator. On the one
hand, attempts to create general theories or concepts were very likely to leave out the
particularities of the phenomenon being studied, but on the other hand, when the peculiarities of
certain events were taken into account, it was hard to compare them with other phenomena. To
solve this dilemma, Weber argued that an ideal and hypothetical type should be created to serve
as a pattern of comparison to concrete observable cases. The ideal type would be derived
inductively and then compared with the real world to see how it differs. Establishing an ideal

but also an inevitable one: “the future belongs to bureaucratization” (1400-01). yet feared its influence. the ideal type would never correspond to reality but would represent a description to which reality could be compared. In his ideal type of bureaucracy. Yet Weber recognized that bureaucracy had social consequences and was not entirely a positive development. bureaucracy and authority. Therefore. impersonality. hierarchy of authority. Weber extensively used ideal types in his comparative analysis of capitalism. charismatic leaders and bureaucratic administrations were nothing more than different levels of abstraction built to permit a better understanding of empirical reality. Weber also believed that his method of rationalization and ideal types could and should be applied to study other private and public spheres of society. bureaucratization. specialization and division of labor are characteristics needed to create efficiency in the administrative process. When bureaucracy is present. he defined “a capitalistic action as one which rests on the expectation of profit by the utilization of opportunities for exchange. Therefore. in the introduction of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. would lead to depersonalization. His logic was to assume that as calculation underlies the transaction of the partners. everyone in the same situation. his definitions of modern capitalism. Its relationship to the empirical data consists solely in the fact that where market-conditioned relationships of the type referred to by the abstract construct are discovered or suspected to exist in reality to some extent. He was ambivalent about bureaucracy’s rise and impact. “bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge” (225). Moreover. “Substantively. sooner or later. written rules of conduct. This is the spirit in which the ideal official conducts his office” (225). Weber used an ideal type of capitalism as a measuring rod to argue that the ‘modern capitalism’ had its roots on rationalization. and then look at the causes of the discrepancies. the connection between capitalism and rational action was entirely based on expected and calculated profits that should take place during the exchange process. Bureaucracy is inescapable. that is. capitalistic actions were rational. Bearing this logic in mind. As an instrument of comparative analysis. we can make the characteristic features of this relationship pragmatically clear and understandable by reference to an ideal-type” (90). capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings” (223). bureaucracy was simply a result of rational principles applied to large-scale organizations to improve their administration. For instance. that is on (formally) peaceful chances of profit” (xxxii). “everyone is subject to formal equality of treatment. and for this reason he foresaw bureaucratization as a dominant and inevitable process of administration in the future of modern societies. organization’s goals are easily achieved. it would make them more functional and improve their efficiency. To Weber. from a purely technical point of view. “[T]he purely bureaucratic type of administrative organization – that is the monocratic variety of bureaucracy – is. When rationalization was applied to human organizations. Weber was also worried that bureaucracy would create a new class . In this sense. Weber said that “bureaucracy is by far not the only modern form of organization”. He said that in a bureaucracy. and such exchanges were dependent on rational calculus of probable profitableness.2 type is possible to ascertain similarities and deviations in concrete cases. He noted that in modern societies was hard to deal with individual cases because bureaucratic domination does not take into account personal considerations. In his words. promotion based on achievement. His argument was that the capitalistic system was based on exchanges motivated by profit. He praised it for its efficiency. this construct [the ideal type] in itself is like a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality.

The first type is based on rules legally established.3 of officials who would exert inordinate power over their areas. Monitored by the parliament. “The politician may serve national. and become authoritarian. Finally. Thus. In Politics as a Vocation he clarifies that the politician is capable of check bureaucracy’s reach and restore freedom. together with the parliament. . rather than the attributes of the leader alone. In his analysis he distinguished three types of authority: rational-legal. after thinking about the origin and the types of authority. Conceiving authority as a relationship where some people obey and others command. Traditional authority is bound to the precedents handed down from the past and to this extent is oriented to rules. humanitarian. The politician. superhuman. in the idea that the leader derives his role from the belief that his followers have about his mission. Faced with this fear. charismatic authority rests on the request of leaders who claim loyalty because of the force of their exceptional character. whose “first task is the supervision of these policy makers. Weber was interested in understanding why some people claim authority over others and why people give obedience to some figures representing authority. “Authority will be called traditional if legitimacy is claimed for it and believed in by virtue of the sanctity of age-old rules and powers” (226). Rational-legal authority characterizes most hierarchical relations in the modern society. whether ethical. cultural. He believed that modern societies were peculiar for the presence of different types of authority. worldly. traditional and charismatic. therefore. in the charismatic authority the basis for obedience lies in the recognition of special qualities in the authority who commands. Finally. imposing their own agenda upon their subjects. (…) “[p]oliticians must be the countervailing force against bureaucratic domination” (1417). religious or heroic. and may appeal to his legislature for political support that opposes bureaucratic power. “The term ‘charisma’ will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural. or religious ends” (117). Weber asked how authority relations were established and when they would become legitimate. social. not to the bureaucrats. It is a matter of personal devotion to the possessor of the quality. Weber explained how bureaucrats and their power could be limited and how political leadership could transcend bureaucracy and stops its advance. ethical. or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (241). is accountable to the people. The importance of Weber’s definition of charismatic authority lies.