Economy and Society

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Economy and Society, published in 1922 as Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie is a posthumous work of Max Weber.


  • Sociology... is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences. We shall speak of "action" insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behavior - be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence. Action is "social" insofar as its subjective meaning takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course.
    • p. 4
  • For the purposes of a typological scientific analysis it is convenient to treat all irrational, affectually determined elements of behavior as factors of deviation from a conceptually pure type of rational action. For example a panic on the stock exchange can be most conveniently analysed by attempting to determine first what the course of action would have been if it had not be influenced by irrational affects; it is then possible to introduce the irrational components as accounting for the observed deviations from this hypothetical course...Only in this way is it possible to assess the causal significance of irrational factors as accounting for the deviation of this type. The construction of a purely rational course of action in such cases serves the sociologist as a type (ideal type) which has the merit of clear understandability and lack of ambiguity. By comparison with this it is possible to understand the ways in which actual action is influenced by irrational factors of all sorts, such as affects and errors, in that they account for the deviation from the line of conduct which would be expected on hypothesis that the action were purely rational.
    • p 6
  • Social action, like all action, may be oriented in four ways. It may be:
(1) instrumentally rational (zweckrational), that is, determined by expectations as to the behavior of objects in the environment and of other human beings; these expectations are used as "conditions" or "means" for the attainment of the actor's own rationally pursued and calculated ends;
(2) value-rational (wertrational), that is, determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other form of behavior, independently of its prospects of success;
(3) affectual (especially emotional), that is, determined by the actor's specific affects and feeling states;
(4) traditional, that is, determined by ingrained habituation.
  • p 24-25
  • The term "social relationship” will be used to denote the behavior of a plurality of actors insofar as, in its meaningful content, the action of each takes account of that of the others and is oriented in these terms. The social relationship thus consists entirely and exclusively in the existence of a probability that there will be a meaningful course of social action – irrespective, for the time being, of the basis of this probability.
    • p. 26-27 (1978 edition)
  • The continual utilization and procurement of goods, whether through production or exchange, by an economic unit for purposes of its own consumption or to procure other goods for consumption. will be called "budgetary management" (Haushalt).
    • p. 87 ; Definition of a household.
  • Men differ in … social status. … Simple observation shows that in every such situation he who is more favored feels the never ceasing need to look upon his position as in some way “legitimate,” upon his advantage as “deserved,” and the other’s disadvantage as being brought about by the latter’s “fault.” That the purely accidental causes of the difference may be ever so obvious makes no difference.
    • p. 953
  • Every highly privileged group develops the myth of its natural, especially its blood, superiority. Under conditions of stable distribution of power and, consequently, of status order, that myth is accepted by the negatively privileged strata. Such a situation exists as long as the masses continue in that natural state of theirs in which thought about the order of domination remains but little developed, which means, as long as no urgent needs render the state of affairs “problematical.” But in times in which the class situation has become unambiguously and openly visible to everyone as the factor determining every man’s individual fate, that very myth of the highly privileged about everyone having deserved his particular lot has often become one of the most passionately hated objects of attack.
    • p. 953
  • Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is "dehumanized," the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.
    • p. 975
    • Alternative translation:
Bureaucracy's specific nature . . .develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is “dehumanized,” the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.
  • As cited in: Joseph H. Carens (1981), Equality, Moral Incentives, and the Market. p. 205
  • Characteristics of Modern Bureaucracy
Modern officialdom functions in the following manner:
  1. There is the principle of official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered by rules, that is, by bws or administrative regulations.
This means:
(I) The regular activities required for the purposes or the bureaucratically governed structure all' assigned as official duties.
(2) The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of these duties is distributed in a stable way and is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means, physical, sacerdotal, or otherwise, which may be placed at the disposal of officials.
(3) Methodical provision is made for the regular and continuous fulfilment of these duties and for the exercise of the corresponding rights; only persons who qualify under general rules are employed.
In public and lawful government these three elements constitute 'bureaucratic authority.' In private economic domination, they constitute bureaucratic 'management.' Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism. Permanent and public office authority, with fixed jurisdiction, is not the historical rule but rather the exception. This is so even in large political structures such as those of the ancient Orient, the Germanic and Mongolian empires of conquest, or of many feudal structures of state. In all these cases, the ruler executes the most important measures through personal trustees, table-companions, or court-servants. Their commissions and authority are not precisely delimited and are temporarily called into being for each case.
  • p. 956
  • The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones.
    • p. 957 ; Second characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • The management of the modern office is based upon written documents ('the files'), which are preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sorts. The body of officials actively engaged in a 'public' office, along with the respective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a 'bureau.' In private enterprise, 'the bureau' is often called 'the office.'
    • p. 957 ; Third characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • IV. Office management, at least all specialized office management-- and such management is distinctly modern--usually presupposes thorough and expert training. This increasingly holds for the modern executive and employee of private enterprises, in the same manner as it holds for the state official.
V. When the office is fully developed, official activity demands the full working capacity of the official, irrespective of the fact that his obligatory time in the bureau may be firmly delimited. In the normal case, this is only the product of a long development, in the public as well as in the private office. Formerly, in all cases, the normal state of affairs was reversed: official business was discharged as a secondary activity.
VI. The management of the office follows general rules, which are more or less stable, more or less exhaustive, and which can be learned. Knowledge of these rules represents a special technical learning which the officials possess. It involves jurisprudence, or administrative or business management.
  • p. 958 ; Fourth to sixth characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • Bureaucratization offers above all the optimum possibility for carrying through the principle of specializing administrative functions according to purely objective considerations. Individual performances are allocated to functionaries who have specialized training and who, by constant practice increase their expertise. "Objective" discharge of business primarily means a discharge of business according to calculable rules and "without regard for persons."
    • p. 975

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