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Max Weber's Social Action Theory

Discuss about the Max Weber's Verstehen and Social Action.

Max Weber who grew up amidst struggles coined the social action theory influenced by his life   outcomes (Edles & Appelrouth, 2008). According to Weber's Verstehen theory, life has meanings and value systems, which are important for symbolism and interpretation. Weber expressed his ideas unveiling connections to the Marxian and Nietzsche approaches. In his opinion, Sociology takes an interpretative approach to social action by arriving at causal explanations of certain effects. The implication of this is that actions influence individual and group decisions. Therefore, organizations and individual persons have interests, which determine their end. The National Steps Challenge is a profit making business with seasons of fun and games with prices that encourage people to live a healthy life. Families and friends gather in these exciting events in the shopping malls and neighborhoods. The popularity of its events is due to various factors. Weber’s ideology explains why and how the company achieves it ends through means. This is a definition of why the company designs strategies with an aim of attaining greater profits and why people see these activities as opportunities for self-improvements. Although it explains rationality, it has limitations (Brubaker, 2013)

In order to explain this, Weber’s category of action presents different concepts for traditional, affective, rational and substantive rationality. First, it is possible that more people see the need to engage in healthy activities because of what they have always done. The National Steps Challenge has seasons that motivate people to gather at these events as a tradition. Weber sees sociology as a science that interprets social action through causal factors (Edles & Appelrouth, 2008, p. 194). In this case the number of attendants at the social events grows fom 156000 to 35000 in Season 2 because of the nationwide tradition.

Secondly, there are chances that the rewarding system captivates more people to participate. In this case, Weber affective action answers this notion pointing out that people do things out of utility. In this case, the company seeks to satisfy the consumer’s emotional action regardless of the consequences. This means that participants are not afraid of the extreme exercise involving 5000 steps every day.  For some, the motivation could be the tangible rewards of a shopping voucher and the healthy behavioral change (Forbes, 2012). This thought holds that people are social beings responsible for individual choices. Both individuals ad groups have benefits in this case.

Rational Action supports the idea that people do things because of the underlying value. A researcher looking into the social media craze for these activities might consider the group influence as friends and family gather together for fun. The sophistication of being in such a fun group motivates the consumer to participate in groups of families and friends. Consequently, The National Steps Challenge undertakes a brand marketing strategy with a focus on developing a quality event targeting thousands (Brennan & Croft, 2012). This factor depends on the efficiency, reliability and status of the event. In this explanatory approach, rational action may be substantive in that it has the ultimate goal of achieving a healthy nation. The social action may also be formative focusing on multiple goals such as prize reward, healthy effect and group competition.

The National Steps Challenge: A Case Study

Weber’s opinion about society and changes in social change indicates that human action influences change in society. These notions explain the essence of extreme actions in the modern system (Burrel & Cooper, 2015). Technology influences, sporting activities, and reality shows influence people’s decisions. Therefore, classical social theories like Weber’s approach are effective in providing contemporary explanations. Social behavior is about conforming to psychological reinforcements through social interactions (Homans, 1958). Weber’s interpretivism supports symbolism and interpretation as critical aspects of cultural factors and ideologies. Verstehen means to understand and to know deeply the ideas, values and experiences. Used in social sciences, it takes the interpretive aspects of social phenomenon in which participatory analysis of social action unveils reveals individual actions and reactions.

In this case, people as agents demonstrate behavior that relates to cause and effect. The study of behavior and society in demonstrating meaning indicates that humans have different actions explained by causal laws in which actors influence action and cause effects. Weber also propagated that generalization on factors influencing human action brings out different motivational factors (Wagner & Chesterman, 2014).  Common conditions for social action connect to social problems, joint actions, individual decisions and activities. This means that people do things as a social group because of values and effects. Instrumental or value action looks at the planned action with an ultimate goal. Affective action based on emotions indicates personal feelings. Emotions and macro instruments have material interests and ideas contributing to social outcome. 

Warde (2015) presents a discusion on the sociology of consumption to point out that theoretical perspectives influence uncontrolled consumption. People have different tastes and practices according to their lifestyle. A cultural analysis of inequality trends highlight the impact of individual decisions on social action. Weber’s ideal types of social action also stipulate that the meaning behind an individual’s action is critical. In his opinion, observation unveils the motives behind an individual’s action. This is what influences people’s thoughts and social change. Although he highlights four types of actions, it is arguable that social structures alone do not influence motives. People may engage in symbolic action but interpretations vary. Capitalists may argue that material power influences such social gatherings (Denzin & Giardina, 2016).

Weber talks about four types of real cases and compares them. The traditional Social action supports people action as a usual activity. However, the contemporary system has different motivations. People do things for money, prestige, status and recognition. This is a psychosocial approach to emotional consequences or intrinsic values. Therefore, consumers of then national event have a self-perception that justifies their actions. Personal goals influence selective behavior, passions and people’s commitments (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). Although actions depend on a conscious belief in inherent value of a person’s behavior people are subject to experiences. The instrumental-rationale in social action has a purpose and goal, which is specific to each individual. In this case, participants in the

Although Weber theory recognizes the need for individual meanings and understanding with society changes, most of its focus is on society. It looks at how it shapes the individual for symbolic interactionism. This notion revolves around the freedom to choose by considering how it shapes people’s identities in a social event. Psychological theorists may also support Weber’s theory pointing out that social action is because of social and individual factors (Arflken & Yen, 2014). This is the case in social justice movements in which people may have personal moral convictions influenced by religious aspects.

Types of Action and Motivation

Modified social action theories is evident in social research where rationality is instrumental in describing the impact of organized behavior used to influence change (Cajaiba-Santana, 2014). For example, sustainability as a critical aspect of environmental conservation looks at how the business community, individuals, and society can gain a positive behavior change. Climate change is a concern that all stakeholders have. However, there are challenges as to whether governments have good intentions in implementing international greenhouse policies. It is important to note that human beings have a selfish nature. The conflict in thoughts poses a problem for social researchers (Neuman, 2014).

Conclusion

Social action is as a practice involves different notions on human. In order to interpret people’s actions, Weber's Verstehen points out that it is necessary to create a meaningful impression of an outcome. This does not necessarily focus on the consequence but on what causes it. Therefore, people are important actors in Weber’s theory. He identifies four types of social action in which individuals have expectations, beliefs, and feelings as well as expectations. In this case, example people respond to The National Steps Challenge as a social event for family and friends. The company also takes action based on the demands in the social environment. Therefore, there are reliable explanations for social action by individuals and groups. Although the social action approach is popular, it also faces criticism because of its inability to explain intrinsic factors of individuals. Never the less, its explanatory approach has deeper meanings that provides insights for researchers and decision makers.

References

Arflken, M., & Yen, J. (2014). Psychological and Social Justice: Theoretical and Philosophical engagements. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 34(1), 1-13.

Brennan, R., & Croft, R. (2012). The use of social media in B2B marketing and branding: An exploratory study. Journal of Customer Behaviour, 101-115.

Brubaker, R. (2013). The limits of rationality. Routledge.

Burrel, G., & Cooper, R. (2015). Modernism, Post modernism and organizational analysis: An Introduction . In G. C. Burrel, Robert Cooper (pp. 149-175). Routledge.

Cajaiba-Santana, G. (2014). Social Innovation: Moving the field forward. A Conceptual framework. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 82, 42-51.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Toward a Psychology of Optimal Experience . Flow and the Foundation of Positive Psychology, 209-226.

Denzin, N. K., & Giardina, M. D. (2016). Introduction. In N. Denzin, & M. Giardina, Qualitative Inquiry-Past, Present and Future (pp. 9-38). Routledge .

Edles, L. D., & Appelrouth, S. (2008). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Readings. Singapore: Sage.

Forbes, I. (2012). Marx and Nietzsche: The individual in history. In A. P. Keith, Marx and Nietzsche: The individual in history (pp. 149-170). Nietzsche and Modern German Thought.

Homans, G. C. (1958, May). Social Behavior as Exchange. American Journal of Sociology, 597-606. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from George Homans Social Behavior as Exchange (from American Journal of Sociology

Neuman, L. W. (2014). Social Research Methods. Pearson.

Wagner, E., & Chesterman, A. (2014). Can Theory help translators?: A dialogue between the ivory tower and the world face. Routledge.

Warde, A. (2015). The Sociology of consumotion: Its recent development. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 117-134.

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