Action Theories

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Weber: Social Action Theory

Saw both structural + action approaches as necessary for understanding human behaviour, arguing an adequate explanation involves two levels:

1. The level of cause - explaining objective structural factors that shape behaviour.

2. The level of meaning - understanding the subjective meanings that individuals attach to their actions.

In his study of rise of capitalism - at level of structural cause, Protestant Reformation introduced new belief system, 'Calvinism'. Changed people's worldview, leading to changes in their behaviour.

At level of subjective meaning, work had religious meaning for Calvinists, as a calling by God. As result, accumulated wealth and became first modern capitalists.

Types of Action - Weber classifies actions into 4 types, based on meaning for actor:

Instrumentally rational - actor calculates most efficient means of achieving given goal.

Value rational - towards goal actor regards as desirable for its own sake, e.g. worshipping God to get to heaven.

Traditional - is customary, routine or habitual action.

Affectual - expresses emotion, e.g. weeping out of grief.

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Symbolic Interactionism

focuses on how we create social world through our interactions. interactions based on meanings we give to situations, conveyed through symbols especially language.

G.H. Mead

1. Symbols versus instincts

Animals behaviour governed via instincts, we respond to world by giving meanings to things significant to us. Create a world of meanings by attatching symbols to things around us. Interpretive phase between stimulus and our response to it, in which we interpret its meaning.

2. Taking role of other

We interpret other people's meaning by taking their role, i.e. putting ourselves in their place. Young children internalise significant others e.g. parents, while later in life we see outselves from POV of society in general - generalised other.

Blumer identified 3 key principles of interactionism:

  1. Our actions based on meanings we give to situations, people etc. Not automatic responses to stimuli.
  2. Meanings rise from interactions + to some extent negotiable + changeable.
  3. Argues although our action partly predictable as we internalise expectations of others, always some room for choice in how we perform our roles.
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Symbolic Interactionism

Labelling Theory - labelling theorists use 3 key interactionist concepts:

1. Definition of the situation - defining something labels it. Thomas argues if people define situation as real, will have real consequences: if we believe something to be true, will affect how we act + may affect those involved.

2. Looking-glass self: Cooley argues our self-concept arises out of our ability to take the role of the other. Others act as looking-glass to us: we see our self mirrored in how they respond to us and become what they see us as.

3. Career - Becker & Lemert apply concept, e.g. to mental patients. Individual has career running from 'pre-patient' with certain symptoms, through labelling by a psychiatrist, to hospital in-patient, to discharge etc. 'Mental patient' may become our master status.

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Symbolic Interactionism

Goffman's dramaturgical model

Goffman describes how we actively construct our 'self' by manipulating other people's impression of us.

Dramaturgical approach - uses analogies with drama, e.g. 'actors', 'scripts', 'props', 'backstage' etc.

1. Presentation of self & impression management

Two key dramaturgical concepts ^  - we seek to present particular image to our audiences, controlling the impression our 'performance' gives.

Impression management techniques include tone of voice, gestures, props & settings e.g. dress, makeup, equipment, decor and premises.

Theatre: front stage - where we act roles, while backstage we can step our of our role and 'be ourselves', e.g. teachers' behaviour in classroom and staffroom.

2. Roles

'Gap' or role distance between our real self and our roles, only loosely scripted by society and allow us a lot of freedom in how we play them.

Role distance implies we don't always believe in roles we play. We may be calculating, manipulating audiences into accepting an impression that conceals our true self.

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Describes things as they appear to our senses. Some philosophers argue we can never have definite knowledge of what world outside us is really like; all we can know is what our mind tells us about it.

Schutz's phenomenological society

Expands the view of mental categories. He believes the mental categories we use aren't individual to us, we share them with other members of society. Calls these shared categories 'typifications'.

Typifications enable us to organise our experiences into shared world of meaning.

He believes the meaning of an experience varies according to its social context. E.g. raising hand in class has different meaning to raising hand in auction.

For this reason, meanings potentially unclear + unstable, especially if others classify action in different way.

Typifications ensure everyone thinks in same way. Ensures everyone can cooperate and communicate effectively.

Believes members of society have shared world - where typifications are shared and common sense approach applied.

Common sense approach - allows us to know what certain situations mean and what people's motives are.

He believes situations, symbols, expressions only mean what they do because we as a world agree it does.

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Ethnomethodology - Garfinkel

Functionalists like Parson believe social order is maintained through a shared set of beliefs that everyone is socialised into.

Garfinkel takes different view - believes it's constructed daily through individuals using their common sense.

Ethnomethodology (EM) looks to find out how social order maintained through common sense knowledge.

EM sees things as not having meaning, only have meaning when in context. E.g. someone puts up their hand, it has no meaning, unless they're in a classroom then it means they want to ask/answer a question. (INDEXICALITY) - idea nothing has meaning with no context.

Indexicality seen to be threat to social order as it can cause problems with communications. If meanings are unclear, communication will fault and relationships will break down.

Indexicality means we cannot assume meanings of actions, however, in everyday life we do assume what actions mean.

Garfinkel believes we act as though meanings are clear because of REFLEXIVITY.

Reflexivity - using our common sense to work out meanings. This stops meanings being unclear.

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Combining Structure & Action

Action theories - micro-level, look at individuals reactions and interactions, beleve individuals have free choice about their reactions & what they do.

Structural theories - macro-level, deterministic theories that see society as objective + external to individuals.

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Giddens' Structuration Theory

Attempted to construct theory that is halfway between structural & action theories.

'Duality of structure', two sides of the same coin; neither can exist without the other.

Social behaviour often the product of both social structure & how we interpret that structure.

Structure has two elements for Giddens: rules (norms, customs, laws that govern action) and resources (both economic resources and power over others).

Rules & resources can be either reproduced or changed through human action. Our actions generally tend to reproduce rather than change them. This is because society's rules contain a stock of knowledge about how to live our lives, so our routine activities tend to reproduce the existing structure of society.

We also reproduce existing structures as we have deep-seated need for ontological security - need to feel that world is orderly, stable and predictable.

Changing structures through agency can happen because:

1. We reflexively monitor (reflect upon) our actions and we can deliberately choose new course of action. In late modern society, where tradition no longer dictates action, even more likely.

2. Our actions may have unintended consequences, producing changes that were not part of our goal.

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