polit. econ

Social actions

In sociology, social actions refer to any action that takes into account the actions and reactions of other individuals and is modified based on those events. Social action is a concept developed by Max Weber that explores interaction between humans in society. The concept of social action is used to observe how certain behaviors are modified in certain environments. The impact of social action is clearly seen in the development of norms and customs and everyday interaction between people.

Social action is an action that regards the reactions of other people. When the potential reaction is not desirable, the action is modified accordingly. Sociology is the study of society and behavior, the heart of interaction, and thus the study of social action. Social action states that humans vary their actions according to social contexts and how it will affect other people. Sociology studies that alteration.

Action in sociology can either mean a basic action (one that has a meaning) or a more advanced social action, one that not only has a meaning but is directed at other humans and induces a response. The term "social action" was introduced by Max Weber. It is a more encompassing term than Florian Znaniecki's social phenomena, since the individual performing social actions is not passive, but (potentially) active and reacting.

Weber differentiated between several types of social actions:

Types of Social Action

  • rational actions (also known as value-rational ones, wertrational): actions which are taken because it leads to a valued goal, but with no thought of its consequences and often without consideration of the appropriateness of the means chosen to achieve it ('the end sanctifies the means') Value rational or Instrumentally rational social action is divided into two groups: rational consideration and rational orientation. Rational Orientation comes into account when secondary results are taken into account rationally. This is also considered alternative means when secondary consequences have ended. Determining this mean of action is quite hard and even incompatible. Rational orientation is being able to recognize and understand certain mediums under common conditions. According to Weber, heterogeneous actors and groups that are competing, find it hard to settle on a certain medium and understand the common social action;
  • instrumental action (also known as value relation, goal-instrumental ones, zweckrational): actions which are planned and taken after evaluating the goal in relation to other goals, and after thorough consideration of various means (and consequences) to achieve it. An example would be a high school student preparing for life as a lawyer. The student knows that in order to get into college, he/she must take the appropriate tests and fill out the proper forms to get into college and then do well in college in order to get into law school and ultimately realize his/her goal of becoming a lawyer. If the student chooses not to do well in college, he/she knows that it will be difficult to get into law school and ultimately achieve the goal of being a lawyer. Thus the student must take the appropriate steps to reach the ultimate goal.

Another example would be most economic transactions. Value Relation is divided into the subgroups commands and demands. According to the law, people are given commands and must use the whole system of private laws to break down the central government or domination in the legal rights in which a citizen possess. Demands can be based on justice or human dignity just for morality. These demands have posed several problems even legal formalism has been put to the test. These demands seem to weigh on the society and at times can make them feel immoral.;

The rational choice approach to religion draws a close analogy between religion and the market economy.Religious firms compete against one another to offer religious products and services to consumers, who choose between the firms. To the extent that there are many religious firms competing against each other, they will tend to specialize and cater to the particular needs of some segments of religious consumers. This specialization and catering in turn increase the number of religious consumers actively engaged in the religious economy. This proposition has been confirmed in a number of empirical studies. It is well known that strict churches are strong and growing in the contemporary United States, whereas liberal ones are declining. For Iannaccone’s religious experience is a jointly produced collective good. Thus members of a church face a collective action problem. Strict churches, which often impose costly and esoteric requirements on their members, are able to solve this problem by weeding out potential free riders, since only the very committed would join the church in the face of such requirements. Consistent with the notion that religious experience is a collective good, Iannaccone et al show that churches that extract more resources from their members (in the form of time and money) tend to grow in membership.

  • affectional action (also known as emotional actions): actions which are taken due to one's emotions, to express personal feelings. For examples, cheering after a victory, crying at a funeral would be affectional actions. Affectual is divided into two subgroups: uncontrolled reaction and emotional tension. In uncontrolled reaction there is no restraint and there is lack of discretion. A person with an uncontrolled reaction becomes less inclined to consider other peoples’ feelings as much as their own. Emotional tension comes from a basic belief that a person is unworthy or powerless to obtain his/her deepest aspirations. When aspirations are not fulfilled there is internal unrest. It is often difficult to be productive in society because of the unfulfilled life. Emotion is often neglected because of concepts at the core of exchange theory. A common example is behavioral and rational choice assumptions. From the behavioral view, emotions are often inseparable from punishments.
  • Emotion: Emotions are one's feelings in response to a certain situation. There are six types of emotion; social emotions, counterfactual emotions, emotions generated by what may happen(often manifests itself in anxiety), emotions that are generated by joy and grief(examples are found in responses typically seen when a student gets a good grade and when a person is at a funeral, respectively), thought triggered emotions(sometimes manifested as flashbacks), and finally emotion of love and disgust. All of these emotions are considered to be unresolved. There are six features that are used to define emotions. They are as follows; intentional objects,valence, cognitive antecedents, physiological arousal, action tendencies, and lastly physiological expressions. These six concepts were identified by Aristotle and are still the topic of several talks.
  • Macro institutional theory of Economic Order: Nicole Biggart and Thomas Beamish have a slightly different approach to human habit then Max Weber. Whereas Weber believed economic organization is based on structures of material interest and ideas, institutional sociologist like Biggart and Beamish stress macro-institutional sources of arrangements of market capitalism.

Micrological theories of economy consider acts of a group of individuals. Economic theory is based on the assumption that when the highest bidder succeeds the market clears. Microeconomics theories believes that individuals are going to find the cheapest way to buy the things they need. By doing this it causes providers to be competitive and therefore creates order in the economy.

  • Rational choice theorist on the other hand believe that all social action is rationally motivated. Rationality means that the actions taken are analyzed and calculated for the greatest amount of (self)-gain and efficiency. Rational choice theory although increasingly colonized by economist, it does differ from microeconomic conceptions. Yet rational choice theory can be similar to microeconomic arguments. Rational choice assumes individuals to be egoistic and hyperrational although theorist mitigate these assumptions by adding variables to their models.
  • traditional actions: actions which are carried out due to tradition, because they are always carried out in a particular manner for certain situations. An example would be putting on clothes or relaxing on Sundays. Some traditional actions can become a cultural artifact Traditional is divided into two subgroups: customs and habit. A custom is a practice that rests among familiarity. It is continually perpetuated and is ingrained in a culture. Customs usually last for generations. A habit is a series of steps learned gradually and sometimes without conscious awareness. As the old cliché goes, “old habits are hard to break” and new habits are difficult to form.
  • Social Action models help explain Social Outcomes because of basic sociological ideas such as the Looking Glass Self. The idea of Cooley’s “Looking glass self” is that our sense of self develops as we observe and reflect upon others and what they may think.
  • Social Actions and Institutions Model: The term ‘institution’ is important in a society. Specialized roles within society as well as groups are key to how much better of a society may be.

In sociological hierarchy, social action is more advanced than behavior, action and social behavior, and is in turn followed by more advanced social contact, social interaction and social relation.

See also


Stark, Rodney (2007). Sociology. USA: Thomson Wadsworth. Sciulli, David (1992). Theory of Societal Constitutionalism: Foundations of a Non-Marxist Critical Theory.. Cambridge University Press. Weber, Max (1978). Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology.. USA: University of California Press.

Gecas, Viktor. "Beyond The Looking Glass Self: Social Structure and Efficacy-Based Self-Esteem" The Scholarly Journal Archive. 1983. 17 Oct. 2007 .

Hedström, Peter. “Experimental Macro Sociology: Predicting the Next Best Seller” Science/AAAS. 10 Feb. 2006. 17 Oct. 2007

Weber, Max. Basic Concepts of Sociology. 16 October 2007 Society for Organizational Learning. Personal Mastery 16 October 2007 Habits 16 October 2007

Homans GC. 1961. Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. New York: Harcourt Brace 23 Oct. 2007.

Frijda, Nico H. The Emotions. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 1986 23 Oct. 2007 Stark R, Bainbridge WS. 1987. A Theory of Religion. New York: Peter Lang Iannaccone LR. 1992. Sacrifice and stigma: reducing free-riding in cults, communes, and other collectivities. J. Polit. Econ. 100: 271– 91 Iannaccone LR. 1994. Why strict churches are strong. Am. J. Sociol. 99: 1180– 211

Further reading

Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure, and Contradiction in Social Analysis by Anthony Giddens,

Liberalism and Social Action by John Dewey, Structures of Social Action (Studies in Emotion and social Interaction) by J. Maxwell Atkinson.

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