Sociological Theory the Sociology of Max Weber Term Paper

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Sociological Theory

The sociology of Max Weber (Question No. 1)

Max Weber's sociology involved two important concepts: Protestant ethic and capitalism. Establishing a causal connection between this two concepts, Weber presented in his discourse, "Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," how the Protestant ethic was the catalyst that propelled Western societies towards social progress through capitalism. This causal connection was developed through a string of observations and ideas that helped Weber analyze the course of human history and interaction as it moved from 19th towards the 20th century.

In establishing his thesis, Weber centered his observations by looking into the interaction or social action among people in Western societies. This methodology enabled him to create descriptions, implications, and meanings in determining the origin of capitalism and how it developed. Social action was explicated by Weber as 'action that is social' -- that is, social action that has "subjective meaning attached to it by the acting individual ... It takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course" (232). Social action was relevant to his methodology because it allowed him understanding, which he termed "verstehen," of the dynamics associated with the people who have lived under the capitalist social order.

Weber's primary objective was to determine what had created and developed rationalization among people who had lived within the capitalist society. He believed that people's daily interaction can be determined through meaningful action that is collectively done. This was possibly identified through the "ideal type," defined as the " ... most essential aspects of types of action associated with these labels ... It is a description that highlights [sic] whatever it is about cultural objects that interests an investigator" (240). Thus, Weber considered Western society as exhibiting a kind of ideal type that made it progress socially and technologically through capitalism. He thus determined common characteristics that capitalist societies have: intellectual and formal rationalization. The presence of rationalization in capitalist societies was marked by the emergence of a socially organized society, wherein each member had a specific role or function that contributed to the improvement of the society.

However, in focusing on these characteristics of capitalist societies, Weber discovered that another common characteristic that these societies had was that its people subsist to the Protestant ethic. Inherent within the Protestant ethic was the rationalization of the individual, wherein s/he is "genuinely religious and ... unworldly. However, the unanticipated consequences of their conception of duty and vocation led them to adopt a lifestyle that was uniquely suited to the capitalist mode of production ... " (243). Indeed, this was illustrated in the manner in which Protestants worked hard not for their own or family's sake, but for economic prosperity, wherein money was not wasted on caprices or wants, but for savings and/or investment. The 'goodwill' associated with the continuous flow of money through investments made Protestants feel that they are contributing and doing a beneficial act to their society. Thus, the Protestant ethic and economic prosperity associated with it was based on the thinking that Protestants would be saved -- that is, responsibility borne out of morality (237).

In effect, what happened was that there occurred continuous economic prosperity, marked also by a continuous change in technology. Eventually, the Protestant ethic, through the collective efforts of Protestants, had made possible the development of a socio-economically progressive humanity among Western societies. What followed was a 'domino effect,' in which economic prosperity prompted Western societies to take the lead in further improving the economic and political organizations under capitalism. Members of Western societies took it upon themselves to assume roles and functions that helped improve capitalism, thereby achieving rationalization and establishing institutions, cultures (i.e., values and beliefs), and social relations among people.

Over-all, Weber's sociological method, which involved objectively observing and identifying the interaction and social actions of people in capitalist societies, had resulted to the establishment of the thesis that linked capitalism development with the Protestant ethic. Through understanding of social action of people from capitalist societies, Weber was able to determine the motivations and reasons they have for pursuing economic and social progress. Moreover, he was able to uncover how rationalization took place in capitalism, specifically among the Protestants, whose sense of responsibility and drive to succeed economically was motivated by their aspiration to prove that indeed, they are one of the elect, or deserve to be those people who will be saved.

Weber's analysis of the roots and development of capitalism reflected his belief that capitalism was an event that developed at one point in time, and was not influenced by previous events and societies that preceded it (for example, capitalism was not linked with the existence of a feudal society). His deterministic view of capitalism was supported by the fact that Weber only provided description and analysis of capitalism based on the social action of people in capitalist societies, generalizations obtained from a specific point in time and place in humanity's history.

The sociology of Karl Marx (Question No. 3)

Often compared against Max Weber's analysis of capitalism, Karl Marx and his sociology brought into fore the complex dynamics behind the new social order of the 20th century -- capitalism. As opposed to Weber's deterministic analysis of capitalism, Marx subsisted to his own methodology, called historical materialism, in analyzing its origin and development. He believed that significant movements in society occur due to precedent events, and this was exactly how he proposed the nature of capitalism is. Positing that capitalism was a social event that was the product of previous societies, particularly feudal societies that prevailed in 18th and early 19th centuries, Marx put forth the thesis that capitalism developed through a progression of human society over time.

Apart from the belief that capitalism emerged from a progressive move of human society over time, Marx also analyzed the dynamics of this new social order by looking into the relationship between history and economics to Western societies. At this point, he utilized his historical materialist method in identifying how capitalism was created and developed over time. Historical materialism puts importance to the interplay between history and changes in technology that occurs with it, for it is through this relationship that Marx discovered that in each society that was created and developed by humanity, there was an inherent tendency for oppression and social conflict to prevail. This means that history of humanity and economics, through its technology, are bound together and ultimately determine the kind of society that will prevail for a particular period in time.

What sets apart Marx's historical materialist method from Weber's focus on social action is that the former delved into the interaction of society with its technology while the latter worked on social interactions among people alone. Marx analyzed society, history, and economics, while Weber studied society's relationship with religion only. Indeed, his usage of historical materialism was based on his assertion that "... historical forms of self-awareness are ultimately determined by the relationship of subjects to a natural environment containing both material objects and forces to which the human mind must adapt" (195). As explicated earlier, Marx believed that in order to further understand how humanity or individuals can achieve self-awareness, one must look into the social conditions in which the individual was in. Thus, he endeavored to prove through historical materialism that social conflict and oppression were inherent in capitalism and in effect, it is detrimental to human society in achieving further social and intellectual progress.

He then provided the causal relationship between history and economics by identifying and interrelating the "production forces and social relations of production." There were three productive forces: labor power, means of production, and raw materials of production (196). Social relations emerged from these productive forces. Technology or the means of production was considered an important productive force for it made possible the easy and fast production of the raw materials. Labor power was likewise considered essential primarily because manpower increases the efficiency of mass production; without manpower, machineries cannot be operated and manufacturing's systematic procedures would not be strictly followed to produce merchandise and other materials needed in a capitalist society.

However, what was considered as most important and pivotal to the establishment of social relations among people in capitalist societies was the ownership of the means of production. According to Marx, what made capitalist societies oppressive in nature was due to the dominant ownership of the means of production by the landowning class, also called the elite class or bourgeoisie. Because the elite class owns the means of production, it also has control over labor power or the working class, who, in turn, were dependent on the elite class for monetary support. As Marx had discovered in his analysis, "[p]roduction in general is always a social enterprise ... individual workers never work in isolation but always as part of an economic system of production and consumption" (196). In effect, the social relation that emerged from the bourgeoisie's ownership of means of production…

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