Social action

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Social action is behavior that is subjectively “ social ” for the agent , as it relates to the behavior of others and is based on this in its course .

For Max Weber , social “ action ” is an act, tolerance or omission, which the science of sociology describes.

Social action at Max Weber


The professional understanding of "social action" was largely shaped by Max Weber for the social sciences . The concept of “social action” has a very special place in sociology. Because in his train of thought in economy and society with the subtitle Grundrisse der Understanding Sociology , he claims to clarify methodical questions and to develop basic concepts ( ideal types ) that are universally applicable. He develops various ideal types of social action, but expressly points out that it is always only a conceptual representation of an actually empirically intended meaning.

For him, subjective meaning means that every action that connects individual people must have meaning. Communication between individual people or society is based on the fact that others understand the meaning of facial expressions , gestures , language, etc. a. m. understand . The motivation to act can be deduced from this sense. This action is “ social ” if its meaning is reciprocally related to the actions of others and is based on it in its course. These others do not have to be physically present.

"Social action [...] should mean such action, which, according to the meaning intended by the agent, is related to the behavior of others and is based on this in its course."

- Max Weber

Since only individuals can be carriers of meaningful action, i.e. in a collective (communities, groups, societies, states, institutions) and do not have to be explained individually , work and action systems have to be broken down to the behavioral patterns of individuals. Thus, for example, the state is only the result of the specific actions of the individual actors in terms of processes and contexts , which are sensibly oriented. Only social action is relevant for sociology. One difficulty is to distinguish social action from general action.

Weber's typification

Social action is determined by purposeful, value-rational, affective and / or traditional motives .

Weber speaks here of “pure types” of social action, which means that real action moves within these types. These four types form the basis on which most of its basic concepts are built. Such as “ Community ” and “ Society ”, where Weber closely follows Ferdinand Tönnies ' Community and Society from 1887 (but not his type theory !).

Weber says about communalization : “We want to speak of 'community action' where human action is subjectively meaningfully related to the behavior of other people . Part of community action is the expectation of certain subjective behavior from others. Subjectively meaningful behavior can therefore be expected wherever understanding takes place or agreements are made ”.

On the other hand, on socialization : "Socialized action (social action) we want to refer to collective action as far as 1. it is meaningfully oriented towards expectations that are cherished on the basis of regulations 2. whose 'statutes' are purely rational with regard to the consequences expected action of the socialized, and if 3. the meaningful orientation is subjectively purposeful. "

Émile Durkheim's theories of “mechanical” and “organic solidarity” could be compared here .

Purposeful action

Under zweckrationalem action means the rational trade-off between purpose / objectives, means, consequences. Anyone who acts rationally must carefully weigh the purpose, means and side effects against each other in order to then decide on the best possible solution.

Value-rational action

Rational action is determined by the conscious belief in the (ethical, aesthetic, religious, etc.) intrinsic value of an action. Those who act on a value-rational basis act according to their convictions , regardless of foreseeable consequences. The agent follows his own rules, demands that he makes of himself.

Affective action

Affective action is triggered by a momentary emotional state and emotions. It is beyond what we can consciously or meaningfully influence and can be an unrestrained reaction to an extraordinary stimulus.

Traditional trading

Traditional trading is a well-established habit . Just like affective action, it lies beyond what can be called “meaningful” action. Sticking to rules can be explained either with "habit" or with conscious adherence to a certain rule.


An example would be: Two passengers who are dissatisfied with the travel situation at the airport talk about it ("joint" action) and decide to complain to the airline ("social" action). All four types of action can play a role: Complaining is purposeful; They judge the treatment of passengers as unworthy (a value-rational motive for action), are emotionally angry about it and only got into a trusting conversation because they speak the same dialect (traditional motive).

Other sociological approaches

A theory of “social action”, like any theory of “action”, must axiomatize an ( anthropological , biosociological ) theory of the social “actor” . Older approaches (such as that of Ferdinand Tönnies ) use the concept of will as a source of meaning for the acting subject . Newer approaches use the concept of reflection (about Jurgen Habermas ), or the concept of "Ratio" (→ theory of rational decision ( rational choice theory ), such as Hartmut Esser ) or " autopoiesis " (with Niklas Luhmann ).

The contrast term for "social action" in the sociology of the " social behavior ". His approach bypasses the " sense " category (or it is always an ideological statement to him), so that "behavior" can be compared with that of animals, even plants and robots and, above all, bridging the gap to sociobiology requires little effort (less Seems to make trouble).

Other authors (such as Norbert Elias ) reject the concept of “social” action as misleading and unnecessary. Since sociality , i.e. living together in societies, is a fundamental characteristic of our species, there is no human activity that is not social, i.e. H. related to other people in some way.

See also


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Max Weber: Economy and Society: Outline of Understanding Sociology . Ed .: Johannes Winckelmann. 5th edition. JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1980, ISBN 3-16-147749-9 , p. 1 .
  2. ^ Max Weber: Economy and Society: Outline of Understanding Sociology . Ed .: Johannes Winckelmann. 5th edition. JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1980, ISBN 3-16-147749-9 , p. 14 .
  3. ^ Max Weber: Economy and Society: Outline of Understanding Sociology . Ed .: Johannes Winckelmann. 5th edition. JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen 1980, ISBN 3-16-147749-9 , p. 21 .
  4. ^ Niklas Luhmann: Social Systems: Outline of a General Theory . 6th edition. Suhrkamp pocket book science, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-518-28266-2 , p. 60 .