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Weber's Approach to Rational Theory

Discuss about the Rational Action Theory.

Rational Action Theory is an approach used by social scientists to understand human behavior. Sociological Writings of Rational Action Theory is discussed by Max Weber, Durkheim, and Simmel among others. Rational action means having a choice among alternative courses of action. An individual chooses the best action considering their preference and their belief. The theory is taken to be both individualistic and psychological as individuals make decisions and actions based on their mental choices. The theory argues that actions of a rational individual can be conceived in the form of statement and its social processes and phenomena explained. Rational theory is considered to have evolved from the social theory which both are agents of social change. To Max Weber, sociology was a science of social action and primary, focused on how human actors attach their actions in their mutual orientation. The main purpose of this paper is to provide a summary of rational action theory as discussed by Max Weber.

Weber approach to rational theory focused on individualism and social evolution in his methodological writings. The purposive rational action was the center of his theory with an assumption of the means as the cause of action and the aggravated consequences as the ends. Looking at the individualism weber paradigms looked at two aspects including social collectives like the state that constructed and reconstructed and non-collective laws. Therefore sociologist must recognize the existence of individual behavior laws in the rationalization of choices and actions. The rationalization for Weber makes the progressive modern society with goal-oriented actions (Nowak, 2012). He looked at the kind of rational actions individuals made and saw that human agency can perceive clear goals with a calculation of the means and the end. Stressing at the reason for action,  Weber argued that despite an actor making a rational choice, their choices are also affected by their conscious belief of values such ass religious, ethical and norms. Therefore an individual would practice pure value rational orientation when their convictions have an importance cause to them. 

Human agency basically, is seen to take actions and therefore chooses to act. Individuals daily social actions according to Weber, always look into account the social and behavior of other individuals. With individuals being social beings, they are not independent and more often than not are they acted interdependently and sought the opinions of others. Therefore individuals take actions whereas the social actions are optimally chosen and this influences their preferences making them focus on their goals. In rational action theory, social interaction often offers social exchange and actors are motivated by rewards and punishments from the actions they take.

Human Agency and Social Interaction


Since individuals have their interests and the means by which they achieve their goals, the theory make assumptions about actions taken by an individual end up affecting social groupings and systems. Individuals’ decisions actions and attitudes affect the social setting, the mind of individuals also, causes the need to take actions as such actions are seen to be taken optimally. Here, individuals’ acts in their best interests that serve them despite their lack of proper information, resources or preferences to be considered. Optimality, therefore, is one of the main assumptions of RAT (Buskens, & Raub, 2013). Of utmost importance is the optimum social part of the theory which shows the aptitude of analysis of social arrangement. According to Weber, structures and norms dictate a single course of action and they part of the RAT. Meaning that a situation may be faced by a different multiple of choices whereas a different action may provide only one choice to be made. In my opinion, RAT creates a classical way that explains the differences in individuals’ choices and how they emerge, but different theorists take into account different levels of optimality in actors which include, individual utilitarian and imposed optimality.

Moreover, Weber argues that RAT is assumed to have little in the application of sociology. That is all the assumptions that are made hold enough knowledge and nothing important is left out. The theory has been used in explaining various phenomena such as marriage, group formation discriminations, and interactions. Weber argued that there are different types of actions including inter independent action that are two types, parametric social action, and strategic social actions, and dependent actions though he saw that dependent actions are rarely applicable in sociology (Buskens, & Raub, 2013). To him, the parametric social action is independent of actor’s action and as such the actor does not have to calculate the actions of others as a consequence of what they do in anticipation of what they may do. On the other hand, social action has to put into consideration the actions of others in deciding what to do. Therefore the actions of any individual are interdependent with those of others.

Weber also identified the informal and formal rationalization where he saw bureaucratic domination as formal rational since it was action oriented with an intellectual rationalization of the social or general rules and the adequate means through which these rules have to be implemented. Weber faced a lot of critics in his work as most of the rational theorists saw bureaucracy as a domination aiming to suppress the society. Also, the theory is criticized for having collective actions of social structure and social norms, and therefore the theory needs to dig deeper in his areas. Collective actions hold problems in explaining cooperation among individuals in associations, joint actions, and groups. Also in cases like the inter-dependent actions, one can pose questions to the theory, for instance, why should one consider others’ actions while making their choices? Social norms also pose related questions of why individuals accept and follow norms of behavior. Moreover, individualism in RAT does not explain or take into account the existence of larger structures in the society (Bouvier, 2007).  The theory, also, argues that individuals make their choices and the means towards achieving the goals. Related questions that may arise therefore are why do individuals feel a sense of obligation or act in humane ways? Why should they feel that is, that they should obey the norms? Why are individuals socialized in value commitment ways and act rationally about the values and not at an individual level? Following this, the theory also has a weakness in that it ignores the formal and informal levels of mediation cases of conflicts between individuals during interactions and in the consequences of the actions they chose.

Assumptions of Rational Action Theory

In the contemporary society, rational action theory has been a great influence in the area of sociology. Religion has been one of this areas where modern rational thinking and acquaintance to alternative religious views and various religious beliefs .for example in United State religious pluralism has increased the demand for religion freedom. Another example is applied under individualism. Here individuals’ intuitions, desires and motivations are influenced by their rational actions. Individuals try through formation of social groupings in the modern world to promote better interpretation of their actions the means to use in order to get their ends. Weber also classified rational acts into two purpose – rational act which aims at goal attainment and value-rational act which is determined by belief in self-value, unconditional ethical and appealing acts. In my opinion, this separate rationality get intertwined in the modern sociological world. Today, individuals are more focused on what adds value to them in consequence of their actions. The theory therefore highly focuses on purposive rational act as it looks at the logical structure of decision making. Norms which Weber looks at his hypothesis shows how bureaucracy in different social institutions have created norms from the principle of purpose-rationality.

Moreover, the society today constitutes of different organizations which are influenced by human behavior and choices. The levels of intervention between individuals and state are different and more often they exert an influence in obeying norms. Individuals look for groups that they can identify themselves with. Everyone is attached to different groups from culture to culture and groups to groups. For instance, in this country, youths tend to leave their families at a very tender age and adjust to behavior patterns offered by other agents of socialization like he churches and schools (Strydom, 2007).  The groups that they join influence the choices they make and the actions in which they use to achieve their set goals. The theory has also been used as a social theory in measuring the efficiency of public administration. Here the regulations that have been set by an organization are measured through the analyzing their theoretical and empirical aspects. Under this individuals through the social structure are the resources and their inclusion through their choices are put into consideration. Therefore the circumstance that have been laid out today by institutions in law enforcement measure efficiency of public administration through RAT.


Under social interactions individuals are highly seeking approval from their counter parts and through status acquisition. As a weakness to the theory, one cannot measure the quantity and the value of social approval. On the other hand rational theorists do not see this as a challenge as today social approval and status can be measured as an intangible satisfaction that individuals achieve from interactions with other individuals. Rational Action theory describes how punishment and reward motivates individual to behave accordingly and thus inducing conditions of human behavior. Thus, through the society has set the appropriate behavior which individuals are bound to follow or otherwise they face punishment (Strydom, 2007).  Continually, rational action theory incorporates the collective action aspect which has also been applied in the modern society. Actions of groups or organizations often are reduced to statements of actions by individuals. Such include parties, unions and organizations whose stakeholders are actors in the rational action theories. The groups speak as collective actors with the decision-making process resulting from individual members and their intentions gathered and agreed upon policy is formulated. Such are the happenings of most of the established organizations and groups. 

In conclusion, rational action theory adopts an individualist position in understanding human behavior and the rationality of the choices they make. It views social interactions as social exchange whereby individuals’ actions are influences by the social structures and the social norms. As such individual choices and actions are rare as human beings are social beings. Max Weber work in explaining the rotational theory is quite articulate though other rational theorists have criticized his work.

References

 Abell, P. (2007). Narratives, Bayesian narratives and narrative actions. Sociologica, 1(3), 0-0. 

Bouvier, A. (2007). An argumentativist point of view in cognitive sociology. European Journal of Social Theory, 10(3), 465-480. 

Buskens, V., & Raub, W. (2013). Rational choice research on social dilemmas: embeddedness effects on trust. Handbook of rational choice social research, 113-150.

Crossley, N. (2010). Towards relational sociology. Routledge.

DE INTERDEPENDENCIA, R. Y. M. (2009).  Networks And Mechanisms Of Interdependence Theoretical Developments beyond the Rational Action Model. 

Glaesser, J., & Cooper, B. (2014). Using rational action theory and Bourdieu’s habitus theory together to account for educational decision-making in England and Germany. Sociology, 48(3), 463-481. 

Goldthorpe, J. H. (2007). On sociology (Vol. 2). Stanford University Press.  

Macy, M. W. (2006). Rational choice. Contemporary social psychological theories, 70-87. 

Martindale, D. (2013). The nature and types of sociological theory (Vol. 11). Routledge. 

Manzo, G. (2007). Variables, mechanisms, and simulations: Can the three methods be synthesized?. Revue française de sociologie, 48(5), 35-71.

Manzo, G. (2013). Is rational choice theory still a rational choice of theory? A response to Opp. Social Science Information, 52(3), 361-382. 

 Martindale, D. (2013). The nature and types of sociological theory (Vol. 11). Routledge. 

Nowak, S. (2012). Understanding and Prediction: Essays in the Methodology of Social and Behavioural Theories (Vol. 94). Springer Science & Business Media. 

Reed, I. (2008). Review Essay: Social Theory, Post-Post-Positivism and the Question of Interpretation. International Sociology, 23(5), 665-675.

 Strydom, P. (2007). Introduction: A cartography of contemporary cognitive social theory.

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