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Max Weber Sociology as Interpreting and Understanding Lecture 4 Anti-naturalism.

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Presentation on theme: "Max Weber Sociology as Interpreting and Understanding Lecture 4 Anti-naturalism."— Presentation transcript:

1 Max Weber Sociology as Interpreting and Understanding Lecture 4 Anti-naturalism

2 Study of Society unlike natural science (no quest for general laws) and more like history Because it must take account of our SUBJECTIVE MEANINGS

3 The subject matter of Sociology is ‘Social action’ Action is ‘social’ when actors subjectively take other people into account, orienting the course of their actions to them Action is ‘social’ when actors subjectively take other people into account, orienting the course of their actions to them Taking others into account either as MEANS or as ENDS Taking others into account either as MEANS or as ENDS It includes orientations to others who are: It includes orientations to others who are: - past: Jesus, Ghandi, personal heroes - present: partners, children, ‘the Boss’ - future: the next generation (ecological) - known or anonymous (use of money)

4 NOT ALL ACTION IS SOCIAL Some actions are not meaningfully orientated towards others Some actions are not meaningfully orientated towards others Some (possible examples): solo climbing; silent prayer/meditation; playing with the dog; piano practice Some (possible examples): solo climbing; silent prayer/meditation; playing with the dog; piano practice Weber’s own example: the collision of cyclists is explained as a natural event [later it can become social as they apologise or abuse one another] Weber’s own example: the collision of cyclists is explained as a natural event [later it can become social as they apologise or abuse one another]

5 Looks as if some won’t live to turn this into Social Action

6 Investigative procedures alien to Positivist Sociology – ‘Interpretative understanding’ (Verstehen) How can we understand others’ meanings? How can we understand others’ meanings? NOT by EMPATHY ‘It is a great help to be able to put oneself imaginatively in the place of the actor … but it is not an essential condition of meaningful interpretation.’ Cannot be:- ‘It is a great help to be able to put oneself imaginatively in the place of the actor … but it is not an essential condition of meaningful interpretation.’ Cannot be:- - Because we all have a limited ‘empathetic register’ (Weber lists his own limitations) - Because we all have a limited ‘empathetic register’ (Weber lists his own limitations) - Because very often actors are not fully discursively aware of their meanings - Because very often actors are not fully discursively aware of their meanings

7 Bonfire Night, but who was Guido?

8 Football cup What do the neighbours’ mean to say?

9 So how do we achieve understanding? ‘ We must be content with a purely intellectual understanding’ in such cases, achieved by ‘ We must be content with a purely intellectual understanding’ in such cases, achieved by By placing actions in their STRUCTURAL context to understand actor’s motivation E.g. ‘2 + 2 = 4’ By putting meanings in their CULTURAL context (you can intellectually understand Hindu beliefs without being a Hindu)

10 Hindu Temple: ‘decoding the levels’

11 What does (the stage of) ‘interpretative understanding’ yield? Weber’s answer: ‘only a peculiarly plausible hypothesis’ The investigator’s certainty is always fallible There is another stage to complete ‘Interpretative understanding’ has to be checked out by ‘causal analysis’ Thus, the method requires BOTH - ‘Adequacy at the level of meaning’ AND - ‘Adequacy at the level of meaning’ AND - ‘Causal adequacy’ - ‘Causal adequacy’

12 Why is he chopping wood?

13 Demonstrating the ‘causal efficacy’ of an ‘interpretation’ Form your interpretation of why someone does something (include cultural and structural contexts of this action) Form your interpretation of why someone does something (include cultural and structural contexts of this action) Many interpretations are possible Many interpretations are possible Check them out: ask him; follow him; ask about him or install CCTV Check them out: ask him; follow him; ask about him or install CCTV When satisfied, accept that you have only explained his action on THIS occasion. Your account is NOT a ‘general law’ – about this guy or all wood choppers When satisfied, accept that you have only explained his action on THIS occasion. Your account is NOT a ‘general law’ – about this guy or all wood choppers

14 Conclusion: Note the differences from the ‘Science of Society’ model Weber does not ever say he has proved his case – only given support for it Weber does not ever say he has proved his case – only given support for it The explanation remains a ‘one-off’ (what made English capitalism ‘so’ may be quite ‘otherwise’ for Chinese capitalism) The explanation remains a ‘one-off’ (what made English capitalism ‘so’ may be quite ‘otherwise’ for Chinese capitalism) Sociology remains modest, tentative and always open to revision Thus it does not aim to produce scientific laws and it cannot be the basis of social engineering (i.e. Durkheim’s aims)


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