Assess the Contribution of the Social Action Approaches to Our Understanding of Social Behaviour (33 Marks) Essay

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The social action approach, argues that individuals experience the social world by interpreting their actions and interactions with others and the meaning they assign to social phenomena. The starting point for understanding society should be the individual as they are authors of their own ideas. Emphasis should be given to how shared meanings develop and how these influence the way individuals define, act and react to their environment. Opposing the social action approach are the structural theories. Structural theories such as functionalism and Marxism are macro (large scale), and deterministic: they see society as a real thing existing over and above us, shaping our ideas and behaviour – individuals are like puppets, manipulated by society. Social action theorists use qualitative research methods to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour and the reasons behind such behaviour. This method investigates the why and how of decision making, not just what, where and when, for example, covert or overt participant observations and unstructured interviews. Structural approaches use methods that are scientific, as they want quantitative data (e.g. questionnaires and surveys). Weber stated that there were an endless number of subjective meanings that individuals may give to their actions. These meanings consisted of an instrumentally rational action, a value-rational action, a traditional action and an affectual action. An instrumentally rational action is when an individual measures out the best methods of achieving a goal. For example, an industrial may measure out the best way of maximizing profit in order to pay low wages. A value-rational action is when an individual concerns an action towards a goal as desirable. For example, a Christian may worship God in order to get to heaven. However, they will never know whether performing this or a particular

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