Max Weber’s Types of Social Action – Explained

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Max Weber define social action as “action is social in so far as by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by acting individual it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course it includes all human behaviour when and insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it”. Max Weber defined four types of ideal actions. But what did he mean by ideal actions? He meant that these actions might not occur similarly in the real world as they have been explained in the Weber theory. However, they may exist as a mixture of a contaminated form of social action.

Types of Social Action

Goal Rational Action

Goal rational action is goal-oriented. The goal is derived from the desire of the actor. The means and ends are decided by the goal that needs to be achieved. The purpose is to find effective ways to achieve the goal. Efficiency is central but the action also has to be rational. Rationality is based on logical and scientific grounds. The purpose of the action is to fulfil some other goal and is treated as a means in itself i.e. the action is instrumental. For example,  if the goal of an individual is to maximize income, then if the individual chooses to cheat on his income taxes or to sell drugs but in the end can maximize income the goal-oriented action is considered purposely rational than someone who requires less money.

Value Rational Action

The means and goals are defined by a person’s value system. Rationality is also judged based on aesthetic, religious or constitutional values. If individuals are valued rational, they commit to a certain subjective goal which may or may not result in material benefits. Police, clergy and lawyers take actions and choose goals and means based on abstract values like justice, honour and patriotism. The means are chosen for their efficiency while the ends are justified by their value. Conscious belief in the absolute value of some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other value codes define value rational action.

Affective Social Action

While the first two types are dependent upon rational systems (goal-oriented and value-oriented), this is considered the most irrational social action as it is motivated by the emotion of the individual. No calculated decision of means and ends is made. Sometimes the means used may not even serve the end but still, the action is carried out in the heat of the moment. For example, if a student being bullied chooses to retaliate and hit back, it is not either goal-oriented or value-oriented because it does not solve the problem of bullying. However, the bullies might even choose to bully the student more. Thus the action does not achieve any end.

Traditional Social Action

Traditional Social Action occurs when the means and ends are not decided by the individual but by the social customs of the society. There are no alternative means to achieve a certain end comprehensible to the individual except the social code. The means and end for a certain action are already decided by social convention. For example, all actions done in the presence of elders in Asian societies are always respectful and keep social rules in mind. Such actions become second nature to the individual and might need no prompting. For example, doing Namaskar or Pranam to elders in India is second nature to the individuals and does not have any logical means to achieve.

Read: Max Weber – Methodology, Social Actions, Ideal Types