The Social Action Theory and Symbolic Interactionism
Max Weber believed that individuals were the key to society. He
developed social action theory, the purpose of which was to find out
why individuals function in certain ways. He thought that every social
action performed by an individual had a meaning attached to it. Social
actions are the result of conscious thought processes that take into
consideration the reactions of other individuals. Weber identified
four types of social action which include, reason (an instrumentally
rational or calculated action), value or rational action (determined
by belief), emotion or effectual action (dependent upon the feelings
of the individual), and traditional action (determined by habit).
In order to investigate society and the role of the individual within
it, Weber developed a method of understanding called Verstehen. There
are two types of Verstehen. Aktuelles Verstehen is a process of direct
observation, and Erklarendes Verstehen, which is a process by which
you try to understand the motives of the individual from their own
perspective. The main concept of Verstehen is to look at society
through the eyes of the individual to try to interpret things in a
similar manner to which they would themselves.
Verstehen has various criticisms. It is possible that observation may
be influenced by personal bias. Direct observation also requires prior
knowledge of the culture being studied. Also, Verstehen assumes that
people in society rationally consider their actions, which may not
always be the case.
Weber believed that class would diversify (instead of the polarisation
that Marx predicted) and that society would become increasingly
fragmented. He thought that ownership of goods, wealth or skills were
more important than the ownership of the means of production. These
properties could be exchanged for money in the economic market - he
was of the opinion that this position in the economic market place
determined class position so that in theory there would be as many
class positions as economic positions. Therefore the class structure
of society is essentially an occupation structure.
Social action theory recognises other divisions apart from simply
class and also recognises that consumption of goods (by which status
groups are stratified) is just as important as the production (by
which class is stratified). It also draws attention to the importance
of the individual and their conscious actions. It does not however
place enough emphasis on class divisions, as it tends to concentrate
more on status.
Symbolic interactionists reject structure and believe that to study
society, the only way to do so is to concentrate on the individual.
Both theories believe in understanding the individual through the use