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In adopting this method, Weber was an historical sociologist. Weber considered the study and examination of empirical data necessary and these data must be carefully selected and interpreted. Out of this, a sociologist develops concepts and "generalized uniformities of empirical processes. Sociologists must, therefore, separate the empirical world from the conceptual universe that they construct. The concepts can never completely capture the empirical world, but they can be used as heuristic tools for gaining a better understanding of reality.


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Compared with Marx, Weber was less attracted to the idea of "laws" by which society can be described, and was less concerned with constructing an overall theoretical model of society and its development. Rather, Weber was impressed by the complexity of society, and the difficulty of understanding society as a whole. He uses many more concepts than did Marx and does not develop these into a single, theoretical model. As a result, Weber's concepts and methods are usually more specific and less general than those of Marx but are applicable to a broad range of social issues.

In addition to the large structural features and observed regularities, both Marx and Weber considered human action to be an important feature of social structure and social change. For Marx, this was more likely to be group rather than individual action, with classes, trade unions, workplace organizations, political parties, and lobby groups providing the setting within which human action took place.

Marxian analysis is not particularly concerned with individual human action within these structures and provides few guidelines concerning methods of analysis of social action and interaction. Weber's analysis helps bridge the gap between the large structures of society and individual social action and interaction.

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Weber argued that sociologists can develop an understanding of actions of individuals and groups, and thereby of historical processes. Weber described this as verstehen or understanding, whereby the sociologist becomes empathetic with the individual, developing an understanding of the meaning that individuals attach to various courses of action. Understanding and meaning are key elements of Weber's approach — these are not just intuition or sympathy with the individual, but the product of "systematic and rigorous research" Ritzer, p. This approach is. From this point of view all history is interactions, which has to be interpreted in terms of the rival plans of various actors.

Ritzer, p. At both the individual level, and at the larger group or structural level, individual and group interpretations of situations, the meaning attached to these, the motivation for action, all must be understood. Meaning also includes constraints and limitations on action, as a result of institutions and structures.

Weber attempts to do this, and develop a methodology so that others can also do this.

Note that Weber argued that this gives the sociologist an advantage over the natural scientist — an ability to understand social phenomenon. In Weber's words,.

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We can accomplish something which is never attainable in the natural sciences, namely the subjective understanding of the action of the component individuals. Weber, Economy and Society , p. Often the study of human society is thought to be too difficult because of the complexity of human thought an action. Weber attempts to turn this into an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Hadden emphasizes the method of ideal types developed by Weber as a way of "comparing the grounds and consequences of action in different historical contexts" Hadden, pp.

These ideal types are concepts developed by the social scientist to isolate key features of interest to the analyst, permitting comparison of various aspects of social action in different societies and over time. For Weber, these help to "achieve a causal explanation of results by isolating the key feature in two or more cases" Hadden, p. Among ideal types are the protestant ethic, the spirit of capitalism, rationality, bureaucracy — concepts that are constructed by the social scientist through careful study, observation, and thought.

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While all social scientists develop concepts that crystallize particular aspects of society in a way that a theoretical model can be built, Weber outlined his methodology in more detail than most writers. His method of ideal types has been widely adopted by sociologists and Weber's methodological writings constitute an important basis for sociological methodology.

Max Weber was a German writer, academic historian and sociologist , who was sometimes involved in the field of politics. He was born near Erfurt, Saxony in central Germany part of Prussia at that time. His family background was not all that dissimilar from that of Marx — both were born into middle class professional families, although Marx was Jewish and Weber's family was better off than Marx's.

Politics played an important role in Weber's life and intellectual activity. Prussia was dominated by the Junkers , aristocratic landowners who were opposed to free trade in grain and to liberal, capitalistic reforms.

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Germany was still divided into separate principalities at the time of Weber's birth, at was at war with Austria and France. Bismarck was able to balance the interests of the Junkers and the western German industrialists, and was able to push through some progressive reforms, such as social security or pension plans. The unification of Germany helped encourage the expansion of industry, German capitalism and the German working class.


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  • The latter supported various socialist parties, and Marxist influences were strong in the working class. The German political system was not liberal and democratic, but "administered by monarchists, militarists, and industrialists. Weber also lived during the first world war, and the Versailles settlement that was imposed on Germany.

    After this, politics was dominated by the fights between the governing Social Democratic Party and the power of the nationalist and right-wing elements. This ultimately led to the Nazi triumph in Hadden notes that Germany was generally in a chaotic political situation during much of Weber's lifetime, and as a result Weber was pessimistic about achieving national unity and cohesion, political aims that he valued highly p.

    Weber's father Max Weber, Sr. Within the political debates of this period, Weber's father was a supporter of the "conservative, reactionary policies of the German Kaiser and Chancellor Bismarck opposed constitutional rule and was a representative of the Junkers, the aristocratic, eastern German landowners, and practised power politics. While Weber's father supported compromise and pragmatism as did Bismarck Weber later had disputes with his father, partly because Weber was a liberal, who supported "democracy and human freedom.

    Weber's mother, Helene Weber, was a Protestant and a Calvinist, with strong moral absolutist ideas. Weber was strongly influenced by her views and approach to life. Although Weber did not claim to be religious himself, religion did was an important them through much of his thought and writings. Weber studied religion extensively, and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism , his most famous work, is a model of Weber's historical and sociological method. In this work, his main contribution was to show the connection of Calvinism with the emergence of capitalism.

    Weber studied at Heidelberg and Berlin earning a Ph. As Marx had done, he studied law and became a lawyer. He began studying the conditions of agricultural workers in east Prussia in and by became a professor of economics.


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    • His studies branched out into the study of history, economics, sociology, religion and languages. Like Marx, he tackled practically any subject which interested him, and both were products of a broad intellectual tradition. Weber married in , although the relationship with his wife Marianne was more intellectual than physical. Marianne Weber provided important support to her husband and later wrote a biography of him. Marianne Weber later became a prominent leader of German feminism, and lived until Much of Weber's life was preoccupied with his personal relationships with his parents.

      According to Ritzer, "There was a tension in Weber's life and, more important, in his work, between the bureaucratic mind, as represented by his father, and his mother's religiosity. This unresolved tension permeates Weber's work as it permeated his personal life.

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      In , Weber criticized his father severely concerning his father's treatment of his mother. His father died soon after, and Weber had a nervous breakdown. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. Hill, Mary Jo Deegan. No cover image.