Max Weber, without any doubt is an indelible thinker in Sociology who entered into the field through law and became one of the founding fathers of the discipline. The world celebrates his work till date as his theories and concepts has a deep imprint in the interpretation of the society. Weber’s works are crystal clear reflection of the practical lives of the people which is the reason why he is still relevant.
Relevance of the works of Max Weber
The famous concept of ‘Iron Cage’ introduced by Weber (although the term was coined by Talcott Parsons) is still applied in the current world. This term was used to highlight the plight of people who were caged in organizations followed by strict rules and regulations, rationality and control. This pressurizes a person to behave in a particular way. This concept is relevant today as in the present times too organizations have a strict code of conduct and the people associated with the organization are expected to behave as per its rules. These features of modern organizations propels the concept of Iron Cage.
Another famous concept of Weber is Bureaucracy which is understood as a formal organization with special functions. Bureaucracy has hierarchy of authority or status where the lower offices are supervised by the higher offices. It has division of labour where work is assigned as per the capability of the workers, payment of salaries and pensions would differ from one rank of office to another, a wall between official life and personal life. However, Weber also mentioned its dysfunctions as well such as ‘lack of creativity due to bounded rules’, ‘ formal and mechanized human relationships ‘, ‘ superiority and inferiority complex’ felt by the officials due to the rank they belong to in a hierarchy. These features of bureaucracy is still found today, more precisely in the ‘9 to 5 jobs’ where people are hired on the basis of their skills and talents which is why the ‘Resume’ is so widely used where the job seeker mention about his achievements, experience and talents. People play different role in the organization on the basis of which they are ranked in the bureaucracy and finally earn a status in the society.
Weber’s idea of Stratification
Weber talked about stratification in society when he gave his concepts of class, status and power and all these axes of stratification finds relevance to the contemporary world, although the original form might be blurred to a certain extent yet the essence of these aspects will be still there. Terms like ‘Role and ‘Status’ that we use so frequently today was explained by Weber long back when he gave his theory of class which is nothing but a person’s market position, that is, how much wealth or money they have. Weber regarded classes as being formed by the social relations of economic life, precisely by relations in labour market and production units and in the same way, in modern societies, differentiation is recognized among employees in terms of their relations with employers regulated by terms of their employment contract. Although in the present society, the stratifying force of status has weakened it would be wrong to suppose that status can now be simply degraded. In everyday conversation when the topic of class is raised, it is in fact status rather than class. For Weber, lifestyle is the most typical way through which members of different status groups seek to define their boundaries. People are still very conscious about the status they occupy in the society and try to keep that status intact. To explain the relevance of Weber’s concept of power, the contemporary time has witnessed the development of electoral politics in modern society. Individuals holding different class position view themselves as having different interests which are likely to be better represented and upheld by different parties.
According to Weber, authority is a form of legitimate power, that is, power that the subordinates consider to be legitimate. Weber brings in the concept of Authority while talking about power and has given a theory on authority and its types. Weber outlined 3 major types of authority –
- Traditional Authority that is legitimized on traditional grounds based on an established belief on the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them.
- Charismatic Authority that is authority legitimized by charisma which rests on devotion of followers to the exceptional sanctity, exemplary character, heroism as well as normative order sanctioned by them.
- Legal Rational Authority that is authority legitimized on legal-rational grounds that rests on a belief in the legality of enacted rules.
These authorities still find place in the present society. An apt example to show the relevance of Traditional Authority is the Royal Family of England who still holds power. To show the relevance of Charismatic Authority, names like Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam is worth mentioning as people look forward to these great personalities and admire them. Thirdly, the formal offices and organizations that runs in the present day shows the relevance of Legal-Rational Authority.
Theory of Social Action
Weber’s theory of Social Action is another one of the most prominent works where he defines action as social to which actor or the person attach meanings, taking into account the behaviour of others. He outlined 4 types of social action –
- Zweckrational Social Action that is goal oriented where cause-effect relationship helps in achieving the goals. For example, a research study that has a goal and the actor (the researcher) work with the motive of attaining that goal.
- Wertrational Social Action that is value oriented where the goal is defined by values. For example, soldiers protecting the country with a feeling of patriotism.
- Affective Social Action where the meaning to the action is generated due to emotions. For example, crying when feeling sad.
- Traditional Social Action where the action performed is due to tradition and belief. For example, touching feet of elders to seek blessings.
Since this theory of Weber directly involve behaviour of people, it is clearly relevant in the present world as people still are goal oriented, have values, follow traditional practices and have emotions.
Max Weber put forward the idea of Rationality in the context of the modern Western world, particularly keeping in mind the capitalistic economy. Rationality involves of social actions which is governed by reason and rational pursuit of one’s interests. Weber discussed about 4 types of rationality –
- Formal rationality (universally applied rules)
Formal rationality is widely prevalent that is concerned with universally applied rules and regulations as well as efficiency and calculability. His concept of formal rationality could be taken as a base to understand how the modern society has increasingly become concerned about efficiency, that is, achieving a maximum result with minimum amount of effort. This idea of formal rationality by Weber can be taken to understand the functioning of the current society where efficiency is the main driver of economic growth. We can take formal rationality, for instance, to be one of the source of environmental degradation as well. Formal rationality along with the development of science and technology constitute the systematic expansion of the means to manipulate nature. In this context, the example of illegal coal mining in Dehing Patkai in Assam can be cited that took place in the year 2020. Coal mining is a profitable business which improves foreign investment of a country generating economic growth but at the same time, coal mining is extremely detrimental to the environment which contaminate water bodies, permeates air with coal dust, cause flood and also it can be seen that many mining areas are left without rehabilitation. It can therefore be seen that Weber’s formal rationality is greatly in use in the contemporary world.
- Substantive rationality (values)
Substantive rationality refers to means to an end through value system. Weber considered that in a capitalist world, the existence of substantive rationality is problematic. For example, Pursuit of family values would find no place in the modern society where economic pressures and dominance of bureaucratic organizations is widely prevalent. This clearly shows that values will be overpowered by the motive of profit making.
- Practical rationality ( means to pursue practical ends)
The pragmatist and egoistic interests of human beings are referred to as practical rationality. This type of rationality evaluates aims and decide the appropriate means to pursue an action in order to accomplish these ends. For example, if an individual aspire to become an engineer, he would pursue academics related to that field alone and not anything else. Because his aim is fixed and determined, he will have to choose those means that would help him reach his ends.
- Theoretical rationality (abstract concepts of reasoning or theoretical models)
Theoretical rationality refers to an effort to master the reality with the help of abstract concepts instead of action. This type of rationality make an effort to understand the world in terms of models built through observation and deduction. Moreover, they form an integral component of logical theories and structures rather than necessarily being connected to social activity. Trying to understand the concepts of pain, happiness, success and failure could be an example of theoretical rationality as it requires one to use logic to understand these abstract concepts.
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Another famous contribution of Weber to Sociology is in the form of religion which he theorizes in his famous ‘Protestant Ethic And The Spirit of Capitalism’ where he establish a connection between economy and religion. Although Weber specifically discuss about Protestantism yet this connection of religion and economy can still be seen in other religions as well. For example, during pujas and other religious gatherings, many vendors can be seen selling their products. Shops remains overcrowded with people before or during festivals, be it Eid, Diwali or Christmas. Thus, in the present context as well religion boost the economy surely.
It is an undeniable fact that Max Weber has contributed immensely to the discipline of Sociology. Although he framed his theories long back yet it is interesting to note that in the present society too, theories of Weber are widely followed. The contemporary scholars have been using his concepts and theories to study and explain society. For example, George Ritzer used the bureaucratic model of Weber to explain mechanization of human experience and its increasing negative impact. Again Ritzer’s famous theory of McDonaldization of Society was modelled on Weber’s concept of rationality. So, it can be seen that contemporary thinkers and sociologists use Weber’s theories as their base or guide in conducting research or studies about various aspects of the society which proves that despite being age-old theories, it still holds relevance in the current times. Although Max Weber did not live long yet his contribution to the field of Sociology in his lifetime is praiseworthy.
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