Social action theories






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  • Created on: 03-06-11 17:02
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Weber's main argument:
Both structural and action theories are necessary for a full understanding of
human behaviour. This involves two levels:
1. The level of cause: Explaining the objective structural factors that help
shape human behaviour.
2. The level of Meaning: Understanding the subjective meaning behind
individual people's behaviour.
Weber identifies four types of actions:
1. Instrumental rational action: When an actor calculates the most effective
way of achieving a goal. Whether that goal is desirable or not is not
considered, only that it achieves effective results.
2. Value rational action: When an actor commits an action to achieve a goal
that is desirable for one self. Unlike the instrumental rational action, this
type of action does not guarantee effective results.
3. Traditional action: This involves committing an action out of habit. Weber
does not consider this type of action rational because no conscious
thought has been put into it. It is done because we have always done it.
4. Affectual action: these actions are triggered by emotions such as anger.
This type of action is important for political and religious events.
Evaluation of Weber
Weber's ideas are valuable in terms of their over emphasis on structural factors
and the affirmation that actors' subjective meanings need to be understood in
order to have the ability to form an explanation of the actions.
Weber's use of empathetic understanding of actors' subjective meanings is not
very successful. We can never be that other person. We can be sure that we truly
understand the other person's motives.
Weber's typology is difficult to apply to. A symbolic interaction or any type of action
could be interpreted as having more than one motive.
Schutz: Weber's theory is too deterministic and does not explain the shared
nature of meanings.
Symbolic Interactionism - Mead
Social interactionism focuses on our ability to create the social world with our
actions and interactions and sees our interactions as based on the meanings we
give to situations. We convey meanings by using symbols, especially language.
We respond to the social world by giving meanings to things that are significant to
us. Thus we create and inhabit a world of meanings. This is done by attaching a
meaning to something using symbols. For example, the middle finger is a symbol
and it has been attached the meaning that it is offensive.

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Before we respond to an interaction we first interpret its meaning and once we do
so can we come up with an appropriate response. We do not have instincts to
direct our behaviour so therefore symbolic interactionism is important.
Evaluation of Mead
It overcomes the determinism of structural theories. It recognises that
people have feelings and viewpoints and act upon reason.
Mead believes that to function as members of society we must have the
ability to see ourselves as others see us.…read more

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Evaluation of Becker
It fails to explain where labels originate from.
Has been accused of determinism
Becker assumes that everyone acts according to labels. This is not true as we are
capable of rejecting them.
It fails to explain labels and meanings in a wider social concept of inequality.
Whilst functionalists see people as passive victims of society's structure, the
labelling theory sees people as passive victims of labels.
Goffman's dramaturgical model
We actively construct our `self' by manipulating other people's impressions of us.…read more

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It lacks the means to explain how some actions are not meaningful such as the
traditional action (since they assume all actions are meaningful).
It cannot explain the consistent patterns we observe in behaviour.
Ethnomethodologists argue that this theory is correct in focusing on actors'
meanings but fail to explain how they create them.…read more


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