Max Weber: Social Action and Verstehen Method: Social Action

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Social Action

Max Weber

According to Weber,

  • Meaningful orientation
  • Relationship with action of others
  • No social action can be isolated or done in isolation

Four Types of Social Action

Four Types of Social Action

Zweck-Rational Social Action

  • Best means to achieve a goal
  • Correlation between means and goals
  • E. g. a Doctor performing a surgery

Wert Rational Social Action

  • Value
  • Expected behaviour
  • Benefits society
  • E. g. Chivalry, charity

Affective Social Action

  • Role of emotions
  • E. g. Love, hate, laughing
  • Note: activity should have two or more actors

Traditional Social Action

  • Carried forward
  • One generation to another
  • Guided by custom or habits
  • E. g. Festivals celebration, rituals


  • Parsons – Social action can be done in isolation if conscious action
  • ‘Dramaturgical action’ – Habermas – we all play a role which is defined by the society

To study social action:

  • Ideal type method (comparison method)
  • Verstehen method (empathy method)
  • Interpretative sociology to understand human behaviour
  • Social science different from natural sciences
  • Own independent methods
  • Sociology is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects.
  • Literal meaning - empathic understanding of human Behaviour.
  • “Process of meaningful understanding”
  • Researcher should be able to understand the social action and its meaning from actor՚s perspective


  • Understanding action of actor
  • Researcher puts himself in the shoes of the subject
  • Interpretation through Causal analysis
  • Value neutral and objectivity
  • Purpose of social action
  • For e. g. Practicing for a football match daily for 3 hours but still losing in the game
  • Vigorous training is required for the researcher to be value neutral.

Criticism of Verstehen Method

  • Neutrality or objectivity is not always possible
  • Actor can manipulate the researcher
  • Hangover of natural sciences is evident


Social Action

  • Help in development of sociology as an independent subject
  • Important concept till date
  • Alex Inklee- Sociology is the study of social systems of social action and of their interrelations

Verstehen Method

  • Objectivity is difficult but we use Verstehen in our daily lives
  • Empathy
  • For his contribution, Weber known as ‘Father of Interpretative Sociology.’


Q. 1. In sociology, who for the first time emphasized social action as the basis for theory?

(a) Talcott Parsons

(b) R. K. Merton

(c) Max Weber

(d) None

Ans. (c)

Q. 2. The action of a manager who wishes to increase productivity is called ________ action.

(a) Emotional

(b) Traditional

(c) Corporate

(d) Rational

Ans. (a)

Q. 3. Who among the following conceives of Sociology as a comprehensive science of social action?

(a) T. Parsons

(b) Karl Marx

(c) Martindale

(d) Max Weber

Ans. (d)