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Action Theories
Types of action:
Instrumentally rational action= the actor calculates the most efficient way to achieve a goal. E.g.
maximise profits by lowering workers wages
Valuerational action = an action towards a goal that has no way of being calculated, e.g. praying to
go to heaven
Traditional action= customary routine with no conscious thought put into it
Affectual action= action that expresses emotion e.g. weeping from grief
Alfred Schutz says it's too individualistic and doesn't explain shared nature of meanings
Some actions may be hard to categorise. E.g. Trobrian Islanders give gifts to neighbouring islands,
but is it a traditional action or is it instrumentally rational to form trade links?
Weber's `verteshen' or empathetic understanding can't be achieved as we will never actually be in
the other person's place to understand their motives
G.H. Mead:
Humans respond to the world via giving meanings to things, and attach symbols to the world
Before we know how to respond to a stimulus we must interpret it's meaning
Animals act instinctively and don't decide what to do consciously
Mead says humans take the role of the other in order to interpret meanings
We first did this through imitative play in our childhood
Later, we become to see ourselves from the point of view of the wider community or generalised
To function as members of society, we have to see ourselves as we are seen via shared symbols
Herbert Blumer:
Our actions are based on the meanings we give to situations and events
The meanings arise from the interaction process and are subject to change to an extent
The meanings we give to situations are from the interpretive procedures we use
This contrasts with functionalism who sees the individual passively responding to the systems
Labelling theory:
The labelling theory describes how the self is shaped via interaction
A definition for something is a label for it and if we believe something to be true, it will affect how we
act. E.g. a teacher labels a pupil as naughty, she will act differently towards him by punishment
The looking glass self, by Cooley, is the idea of how we develop our selfconcept. Others act as a
looking glass and we see ourselves according to how they respond to us. Through this, a
selffulfilling prophecy occurs whereby we come to be what others see us as
Goffman's dramaturgical model:
Goffman describes how we actively construct our `self' by manipulating people's impressions of us
We seek to present a particular image of ourselves to our audiences
We must study how the audience responds and we monitor our performance to present a
convincing role
Focuses on face to face interactions and ignores wider social structures, e.g. class inequality
Ignores the origin of labels
Can't explain consistent patterns in people's behaviour
Not all action is meaningful
Ethnomethodologists say it ignores how actors create meanings

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In interactions, everyone plays the audience and the actor, which is a limitation of Goffman's theory
Husserl argues that the world only makes sense because we impose meaning and order on it by
constructing mental categories that we use to classify and `file' information coming from our senses
Schutz's phenomenological sociology:
We share categories and concepts with the rest of society. Categories are called typifications.…read more

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Giddens' structuration theory:
There's a `duality of structure' ­ structure and action exists simultaneously
Structures make actions possible, relationship is called structuration. E.g. language
Reproduction of structures through agency:
Rules and resources can be reproduced or changed via human action. We tend to reproduce them.
Society's rules explain how to live, e.g. by earning a living, etc.…read more


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