Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Max Weber, Critical Theory and Ethnomethodology

Although critical theories traditionally draw heavily on Marxist though (often called Neo-Marxist), sociologist Max Weber (1864 -1920) is also associated with critical theories and critical social thinking.  Weber is known as one of the founders of modern sociology. Weber differed from both Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim because unlike them he did not view the study of society as a scientific discipline. Durkheim was concerned with appllying the methods of science to sociology and Marx considered his views of society to be scientific and rational. Max Weber, unlike Marx of Durkheim was concerned with the notion of verstehen. Verstehen translates as 'understanding' in German. Weber used the term verstehen to refer to the understanding of why people act as they do bearing in mind the social context that they are acting in. Weber stressed that humans have a variety of motives taking part in their behaviour that include emotions, traditions and rational choice.

In terms of critical theories it is necessary to understand what Weber said about the manner in which society is to be studied. Weber said that all science, exact or social, is based on interpretations and belief, so it cannot be objective or value free. Thus there is no such thing as objective truth based on science because science itself is based on human assumptions and paradigms of thought. In order to understand reality, one has to understand the ideas that people have about the world. It is the values held by individual people that determines their actions and beliefs. It is this set of beliefs about the nature of sociological enquiry that have given rise to a form of sociology known as ethnomethodology.

Ethnomethodology is slightly different from traditional sociology because traditional sociology assumes that there is such a thing as society which can be studied directly. Ethnomethodology attempts to discover how that social order is created in people's minds, and, in a sense, by people's minds. The impact of this on methodology is that there is no agreed set of methods for people to use; they must create methods that are appropriate to what it is they are seeking to discover.

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