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Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920) was one of the pioneers of the discipline of sociology and was one of the early founders of the Interpretivist approach. He addressed the problem of scope and nature of the discipline, and he also established the first dept of sociology in Germany. He pioneered a new approach to study the society which later came to be known as the interpretative approach. This approach puts the individuals and the way the individuals think at the center of analysis of society. Instead of focusing on society at a grand level as the functionalists like Durkheim and conflict theorists like Marx did, he advocated to maintain focus on micro level on the individual and his /her actions only. He is one of the first sociologists to outline social action perspective in detail. He argued that sociological explanations of action should begin with observing and interpreting the subjective states of minds of people. Weber is considered to have bridged the gap between positivism and idealism. He favored the use of scientific method in sociology for the purpose of achieving objectivity and on the other hand he developed the scope of sociology as the meaning attached by the actors to their actions. He opposed pure abstract theorizing instead his theoretical ideas are embedded in his empirical usually historical research. According to Weber, the behavior of man in society is qualitatively different from physical objects in the natural world and organisms in the biological world. In his book Methodologies of Social Sciences, he defined sociology as science which attempts interpretivist understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at an explanation of its cause and effect. He gave distinctive explanations for the social phenomena. According to Weber, the subject matter of sociology is to study social action which he defined as any action is social by the virtue of the meanings attached to it by the actors, it considers the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course. In this definition Weber mentions two conditions for any action to become social:

Action is social if some meaning is attached to it by the actor, i.e the actor must be conscious of his or her action. The meanings are in the form of motivation of an individual which is her or his own subjective state. Weber rejected the independent influence of the values on individuals rather the values are interpretated by the actor, according to his or her motivation and according to that an action is taken.

Action is social if it is oriented to some other, i.e. only those actions are social which are taken in orientation to some other object. The orientation can be physical or mental, the other person may or may not be present in a social action. Weber also differentiated between action and behavior. Behavior is a biological concept and is spontaneous in nature with no attachment of meaning. According to Weber, the establishment of cause and effect should be the aim of sociology. Understanding the meanings attached by the actors to their actions can only help us to establish cause and effect relationships.

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