Sociology/Max Weber – Authority (1)



Weber’s sociological interest in the structures of authority was motivated, at least in part, by his political interests. Weber was no political radical; in fact, he was often called the “bourgeois Marx” to reflect the similarities in the intellectual interests of Marx and Weber as well as their very different political orientations.

Although Weber was almost as critical of modern capitalism as Marx was, he did not advocate revolution. He wanted to change society gradually, not overthrow it. He had little faith in the ability of the masses to create a “better” society.

Weber was critical of authoritarian political leaders like Bismarck. Nevertheless, for Weber the hope—if indeed he had any hope—lay with the great political leaders rather than with the masses or the bureaucrats. Along with his faith in political leaders went his unswerving nationalism. He placed the nation above all else.

Weber preferred democracy as a political form not because he believed in the masses but because it offered maximum dynamism and the best milieu to generate political leaders.

Weber began his analysis of authority structures in a way that was consistent with his assumptions about the nature of action. He defined domination as the “probability that certain specific commands (or all commands) will be obeyed by a given group of persons”. Domination can have a variety of bases, legitimate as well as illegitimate, but what mainly interested Weber were the legitimate forms of domination, or what he called authority.

What concerned Weber, and what played a central role in much of his sociology, were the three bases on which authority is made legitimate to followers—rational/legal, traditional, and charismatic

Authority legitimized on rational grounds rests “on a belief in the legality of enacted rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands”. Authority legitimized on traditional grounds is based on “an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of those exercising authority under them”. Finally, authority legitimized by charisma rests on the devotion of followers to the exceptional sanctity, exemplary character, heroism, or special powers (for example, the ability to work miracles) of leaders, as well as on the normative order sanctioned by them.

All these modes of legitimizing authority clearly imply individual actors, thought processes (beliefs), and actions. But from this point, Weber, in his thinking about authority, did move quite far from an individual action base, as we will see when we discuss the authority structures erected on the basis of these types of legitimacy.


It is a system of domination driven by rules and laws. The universal laws that govern the system of legal authority are competition, strict discipline, impersonal character, defined hierarchy etc. according to weber the purest type of exercise of legal authority is Bureaucracy.



  • Value time
  • Goal orientation
  • Rule bound behaviour
  • Decision making without prejudice and emotions
  • Long working hours


  • Associated with position and not person
  • Clearly defined hierarchy
  • Unequal distribution of power
  • Authority defined by rules and laws
  • No discretionary power but bureaucratic immunity
  • Complete knowledge about “file”.


  • Fixed tenure of service
  • Fixed salary
  • Promotions on basis of efficiency
  • Diversified positions
  • No absolute authority
  • Occupational mobility.


  • Most efficient system of administration
  • Deliberated justice
  • Decisions universally applicable
  • Mistakes by bureaucracy easily rectified
  • Subjected to collective well being.

To Be Continued !

Sociology/Max Weber – Ideal Type



“An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one sided emphasized viewpoints into unified analytical construct… In its conceptual purity, this mental construct… cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality.” – (Weber, 1903)


The ideal type is one of Weber’s best known contributions to contemporary sociology. Weber believed it was the responsibility of sociologist to develop conceptual tools, which could be used later by historians and sociologists. The most important such conceptual tool was the ideal type.

According to Weber, at its most basic level, an ideal type is a concept constructed by a social scientist, on the basis of his or her interests and theoretical orientation, to capture the essential features of some social phenomenon.

The most important thing about ideal type is that they are heuristic devices; they are to be useful and helpful in doing empirical research and in understanding a specific aspect of the social world. An ideal type is essentially a “measuring rod” or a “yardstick”. As Weber puts it, “Its function is the comparison with empirical reality in order to establish its divergences or similarities, to describe them with the most unambiguously intelligible concepts, and to understand and explain them casually”. For example, social scientists would construct an ideal-typical bureaucracy on the basis of their immersion in historical data. This ideal type can then be compared to actual bureaucracies.


Ideal types are not the product of whims and fancy of a social scientist, but are logically constructed concepts.

The ideal type has to be derived inductively from the real world of social history. Thus, in order to produce ideal types, researchers had first to immerse themselves in historical reality and then derive the types from the reality.

Ideal types should be neither too general nor too specific, so as to find a middle ground between nomothetic and ideographic knowledge. Ideal types are developed from intermediate phenomena such as Calvinism, Methodism etc.

Although ideal types are to be derived from the real world, they are not to be mirror images of that world. Rather, they are to be one-sided exaggerations of the essence of what goes on in the real world.

The use of the word ideal should not be constructed to mean that the concept being described is in any sense the best of all possible worlds. As used by Weber, the term meant that the form described in the concept was rarely, if ever found in the real world.

Ideal type should make sense in themselves, and they should aid us in making sense out of the real world.


  1. HISTORICAL IDEAL TYPES: These relate to phenomena found in some particular historical epoch. For example, the modern capitalistic marketplace.
  2. GENERAL SOCIOLOGICAL IDEAL TYPES: These relate to phenomena that cut across a number of historical periods and societies. For example, bureaucracy.
  3. ACTION IDEAL TYPES: These are pure types of action based on the motivations of the actor. For example, affectual action.
  4. STRUCTURAL IDEAL TYPES: These are forms taken by the causes and consequences of social action. For example, traditional domination.

Thus, we can say that an ideal type is an analytical construct that serves the investigator as a measuring rod to ascertain similarities as well as deviations in concrete cases. It is neither a statistical average nor a hypothesis; rather it is a mental construct, an organization of intelligible relations within a historical entity, formed by exaggerating certain essential features of a given phenomenon.



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.