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Social Action Theories

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Social Action Theories

  1. 1. Action Theories
  2. 2. Weber and Social Action• Structural and Action approaches arenecessary for understanding humanbehaviour, arguing that an adequateexplanation involves 2 levels:1.Level of cause- explaining the objectivestructural factors that shape behaviour2.Level of meaning- understanding thesubjective meanings that individualsattach to their actions
  3. 3. Weber: Different types of social actionType ExplanationTraditional Action Action that is custom or habit e.g.buying gifts at ChristmasAffectual Action Action that is expresses by anemotional state, such as crying at afuneralValue-rational action Action towards a goal the personregards as desirable e.g. Praying toget to heavenInstrumentally rational actionThis is a highly rational form ofaction where people calculate themost efficient means of achieving agiven goal
  4. 4. Symbolic Interactionism• Symbolic interactionists emphasise theways in which society is actively shapedby individuals and the meanings theyattach to ‘everyday things’.
  5. 5. George Herbert Mead• Noticed most of our communication was symbolic suchas smiles, and frowns.• There is an interpretive phase between a stimulus andour response to it, in which we interpret its meanings.• We interpret other people’s meanings by taking theirrole (putting ourselves in their place, seeing ourselvesas they see us)• This ability develops through social interaction• To function as members of society we need theability to see ourselves as others see us. Throughshared symbols esp. language we become conscious ofthe ways of acting that others require of us
  6. 6. Herbert Blumer• Blumer developed Mead’s approach and identified3 key principles of Interactionism:1. Our actions are based on the meanings we give tosituations, people etc. They are not based onautomatic responses to stimuli e.g. (for example,interpreting the meaning of a red light before deciding how to react to it)2. These meanings arise from interactions and areto some extent negotiable and changeable3. The meanings we give to situations are mainly theresult of taking the role of the other.
  7. 7. Labelling Theory• Perhaps the most well known application of symbolicInteractionism is labelling theory. Used widely in Education andDeviance.• Some groups have more power and are able to impose theirmeanings or interpretations on the rest of us• Charles Cooper (1922) uses labelling to describe how we developour self- conceptUses 3 Interactionist concepts1.Definition of the situation- defining somethinglabels it. If people define a situation as real, itwill have real consequences. Once ‘labelled’ peoplemay changer their behaviour and become deviant-SFP
  8. 8. • Looking-glass self- Cooley argues thatour self concept arises out of our ability totake the role of others. Others act as alooking glass to us: we see our selfmirrored in how they respond to us and webecome what they see us as (why SFP occurs)• Career- apply concept to mental patients.The individual has a career running from‘pre-patient’ with certain symptomsthrough labelling by a psychiatrist tohospital in-patient to discharge etc.‘Mental patient’ becomes the masterstatus
  9. 9. AO2:• Labelling theory has been accused of determinism- of seeingour actions and identities as shaped by the way others labelthem•It fails to explain where labels actually originate from
  10. 10. Goffman’s Dramaturgical Model• Argues that social interaction is aboutsuccessful role playing• We actively construct our ‘self’ bymanipulating other people’s impressions ofus• Uses analogies with drama for analysingsocial interaction e.g. ‘actors’, ,scripts,‘props’, ‘backstage’ etc• We are all social actors engaged in thedrama of everyday life
  11. 11. 1. Presentation of self & impressionmanagement• We seek to present a particular image to ouraudiences, controlling the impression our‘performance’ gives• Impression management techniques includetone of voice, gestures, dress, make up• As in the theatre there is a ‘front stagewhere we act out our roles, while backstagewe can step out of our role and ‘be ourselves’e.g. Teachers behaviour in the class andstaffroom
  12. 12. 2. Roles- There is a gap (role distance)between our real self and our roles,which are only loosely scripted bysociety and allow us a lot of freedom inhow we play them• Role distance implies that we do notalways believe in the role we play. Wemay be calculating, manipulatingaudiences into accepting an impressionthat conceals our true self
  13. 13. Evaluate Weber and SymbolicInteractionism
  14. 14. Phenomenology• Phenomenon- things as they appear to oursenses• We can never have definite knowledge ofwhat the world outside is really like, all we canknow is what our minds tells us about it• It examines the social construction ofparticular phenomena and the results of thissubjective way of seeing and talking aboutthem (a discourse) on people’s attitudes andbehaviour.
  15. 15. Example• Jack Douglas studied concepts of suicide,suggesting that some people viewed it as ameans of crying for help, some as a way toget revenge, others as a spiritual hope ofreaching a better place. These differentmotivations for suicide meant that it couldnot be regarded as a single type of act,making nonsense of analysing patterns insuicide statistics in the hope of findingcauses
  16. 16. Ethnomethodology• Ethnomethodology examines how peoplespeak to each other and interact ineveryday conversations andrelationships• Rejects idea of society as a realobjective structure• Sociologists task is to uncover thetaken-for –granted rules people use toconstruct social reality
  17. 17. • Summarise EthnomethodologyEvaluation (pg 249)
  18. 18. Combining Structure and Action• Action Theories- micro level,voluntaristic that see society as inter-subjective, constructed throughinteraction and meaning• Structural theories- macro,deterministic theories that see societyas objective and external to individuals
  19. 19. Giddens Structuration Theory• Seeks to combine the 2 approaches into asingle unified theory of structure and action• Argues that there is duality of structure.Structure and agency (action) cannot existwithout the other• Our actions produce, reproduce and changestructures over time and space, while thesestructures are what make our actions possible• This is called relationship Structuration
  20. 20. AO2:Criticised for not being a theory at all; it doesn’texplain what happens in society. It just describes thekinds of things we will find when we study societyHe fails to explain how his theory can be applied tolarge scale structures e.g. economy & state
  21. 21. Reproducing Structures throughagencyGiddens- Structure has 2 elements:1. Rules- Norms, customs, laws that govern action2. Resources- economic & power over others• Rules & Resources can either be reproduced or changedthrough human action. However our actions generally tendto reproduce rather than change them. This is becausesociety’s rules contain a stock of knowledge about how tolive our lives, so our routine activities tend to reproducethe existing structure of society• We also reproduce existing structures because we have adeep-seated need to feel the world is orderly, stable andpredictable
  22. 22. Changing Structures through agency• Change can happen because:1.We reflect upon our actions and we candeliberately choose a new course ofaction. In late modern society, wheretradition no longer dictates action thisis even more likely2.Our actions may have unintendedconsequences, producing changes thatwere not part of our goal
  23. 23. AO2:Giddens claim that actors can changestructures underestimates the capacityof structures to resist change e.g. slavesmay wish to abolish the institution ofslavery but lack the power to do so

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