Sociology/Weber – Social Action



The word action refers to a human behaviour which an acting individual gives meaning to. An action is meaningful behaviour.  Thus, social action is any sort of behaviour which is meaningfully oriented to the past, present or expected behaviour of others and involves social relationships. Further we will try to understand how weber differentiates between Action and purely reactive behaviour.


According to Turner, Weber’s entire sociology, if we accept at face value, was based on his concept of social action. He was concerned with action clearly involved the intervention of thought processes and the resulting meaningful action. Action was said to occur when individuals attached subjective meanings to their actions. To Weber, the task of sociological analysis involved the “interpretation of action in terms of its subjective meanings”. In embedding his analysis in the mental process weber was careful to point out that, sociologists are interested in mental processes, but this is not the same as psychologists’ interest in the mind, personality, and so forth.


According to weber, sociology is a science which attempts “interpretive understanding of social action”. That is the object of sociology “is to interpret the meaning of social action’. But this interpretation, sociology gives a causal explanation of

  • The way in which the social action proceeds
  • The effects which it produces

The concept of action describes all human behaviour to which the actor attaches a subjective meaning. An action is social when it is oriented or directed to others in society. Sociology, however, is not concerned with all meaningful action. It deals with only those meaningful social action which is directed towards or takes account of other people with the help of examples from actual social life. Thus, the collision between two bi-cyclists is an accident and is not a social action. But when both of them try to give way to each other (to avoid collision) or when, after collision, they engage in a fight or offer an apology to each other, their action becomes meaningful social action.

Action takes place in a situation which has a number of components or aspects. It includes the actor i.e. the person on whose behaviour we are for the present focussing our attention, and objective situation. Which may be social (other individual actors or groups) or non-social (physical environment. Analysis of action is an examination of how the actor reacts to the objective situation as he finds it.

An actor reacts to the situation with an eye to attainment of some goal. All action is, therefore, goal oriented or motivational. What are the motives which generally prompt a man to act? The views of max weber may be considered in this regard;

Max Weber classifies types of action into four categories:

  1. RATIONAL ACTION in relation to goal: the actor conceives his goal clearly and adopts means with a view to attaining it.
  2. AFFECTIVE OR EMOTIONAL ACTION: this refers to the emotional reaction of an actor to his objective situation.
  3. TRADITIONAL ACTION: such action is dictated by customs or beliefs which have become habitual and second nature, as it were, of the actor. Observance of folkways comes under this category.
  4. RATIONAL ACTION in relation to a value: the action that is determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other form of behaviour, independently of its prospects for success.