CHAPTER 4 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTSSociology is sometimes called the child begin with a few words about theof the ‘age of revolution’. This is because context in which sociology emerged.it was born in 19th century WesternEurope, after revolutionary changes in THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGYthe preceding three centuries that The modern era in Europe and thedecisively changed the way people lived. conditions of modernity that we takeThree revolutions paved the way for the for granted today were brought aboutemergence of sociology: the by three major processes. These were:Enlightenment, or the scientific the Enlightenment or dawning of therevolution; the French Revolution; and ‘age of reason’; the quest for politicalthe Industrial Revolution. These sovereignty embodied in the Frenchprocesses completely transformed not Revolution; and the system of massonly European society, but also the rest manufacture inaugurated by theof the world as it came into contact with Industrial Revolution. Since theseEurope. have been discussed at length in In this chapter the key ideas of Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,three sociological thinkers: Karl here we will only mention some of theMarx, Emile Durkheim and Max intellectual consequences of theseWeber will be discussed. As part of momentous changes.the classical tradition of sociology,they laid the foundation of thesubject. Their ideas and insights Activity 1have remained relevant even in the Revisit the discussion of the comingcontemporary period. Of course, of the modern age in Europe inthese ideas have also been subjected Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.to criticism and have undergone What sorts of changes were thesemajor modifications. But since ideas three processes associated with?about society are themselvesinfluenced by social conditions, we
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 67The Enlightenment sovereignty at the level of individuals as well as nation-states. TheDuring the late 17th and 18th Declaration of Human Rightscenturies, Western Europe saw the asserted the equality of all citizensemergence of radically new ways of and questioned the legitimacy ofthinking about the world. Refered to privileges inherited by birth. Itas ‘The Enlightenment’, these new signaled the emancipation of thephilosophies established the human individual from the oppressive rule ofbeing at the centre of the universe, and the religious and feudal institutionsrational thought as the central feature that dominated France before theof the human being. The ability to Revolution. The peasants, most ofthink rationally and critically whom wer e ser fs (or bondedtransformed the individual human labourers) tied to landed estatesbeing into both the producer and the owned by members of the aristocracy,user of all knowledge, the ‘knowing were freed of their bonds. Thesubject’. On the other hand, only numerous taxes paid by the peasantspersons who could think and reason to the feudal lords and to the churchcould be considered as fully human. were cancelled. As free citizens of theThose who could not remained republic, sovereign individuals weredeficient as human beings and were invested with rights and were equalconsidered as not fully evolved before the law and other institutionshumans, as in the case of the natives of the state. The state had to respectof primitive societies or ‘savages’. the privacy of the autonomousBeing the handiwork of humans, individual and its laws could notsociety was amenable to rational intrude upon the domestic life of theanalysis and thus comprehensible to people. A separation was builtother humans. For reason to become between the public realm of the statethe defining feature of the human and a private realm of the household.world, it was necessary to displace New ideas about what wasnature, religion and the divine acts of appropriate to the public and privategods from the central position they spheres developed. For example,had in earlier ways of understanding religion and the family became morethe world. This means that the ‘private’ while education (speciallyEnlightenment was made possible by, schooling) became more ‘public’.and in tur n helped to develop, Moreover, the nation-state itself wasattitudes of mind that we refer to today also redefined as a sovereign entityas secular, scientific and humanistic. with a centralised government. The ideals of the French Revolution —The French Revolution liberty, equality and fraternity —The Fr ench Revolution (1789) became the watchwor ds of theannounced the arrival of political modern state.
68 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETYThe Industrial Revolution meant that men, women and even children had to work long hours inThe foundations of modern industry hazardous circumstances to eke outwere laid by the Industrial a living. Modern industry enabled theRevolution, which began in Britainin the late 18th and early 19th urban to dominate over the rural.centuries. It had two major aspects. Cities and towns became theThe first was the systematic dominant for ms of humanapplication of science and technology settlement, housing lar ge andto industrial production, particularly unequal populations in small,the invention of new machines and densely populated urban areas. Thethe harnessing of new sources of rich and powerful lived in the cities,power. Secondly, the industrial but so did the working classes whorevolution also evolved new ways of lived in slums amidst poverty andorganising labour and markets on a squalor. Modern forms of governance,scale larger than anything in the with the state assuming control ofpast. New machines like the health, sanitation, crime control andSpinning Jenny (which greatly general ‘development’ created theincreased the productivity of the demand for new kinds of knowledge.textile industry) and new methods of The social sciences and particularlyobtaining power (such as the various sociology emerged partly as aversions of the steam engine) response to this need.facilitated the production process From the outset sociologicaland gave rise to the factory system thought was concerned with theand mass manufacture of goods. scientific analysis of developments inThese goods were now produced on industrial society. This has prompteda gigantic scale for distant markets observers to argue that sociology wasacross the world. The raw materials the ‘science of the new industrialused in their production were also society’. Empirically infor medobtained from all over the world. scientific discussion about trends inModern large scale industry thus social behaviour only becamebecame a world wide phenomenon. possible with the advent of modern These changes in the production industrial society. The scientificsystem also resulted in major changes information generated by the state toin social life. The factories set up in monitor and maintain the health ofurban areas were manned by workers its social body became the basis forwho were uprooted from the rural reflection on society. Sociologicalareas and came to the cities in search theory was the result of this self-of work. Low wages at the factory reflection.
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 69 Karl Marx (1818-1883) Biography Karl Marx was born on 5 May 1818 in Trier, part of the Rhineland province of Prussia in Germany. Son of a prosperous liberal lawyer. 1834-36: Studied law at the University of Bonn and then at the University of Berlin, where he was much influenced by the Young Hegelians. 1841: Completed his doctoral thesis in philosophy from the University of Jena. 1843: Married Jenny von Westphalen and moved to Paris. 1844: Met Friedrich Engels in Paris, who became a lifelong friend. 1847: Invited by the International Working Men’s Association to prepare a document spelling out its aims and objectives. This was written jointly by Marx and Engels and published as the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1948) 1849: Exiled to England and lived there till his death. 1852: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (published). 1859: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (published). 1867: Capital, Vol. I, published. 1881: Death of Jenny von Westphalen. 1883: Marx dies and is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Karl Marx was from Germany but he engaged in a critical analysis ofspent most of his intellectually capitalist society to expose itsproductive years in exile in Britain. weaknesses and bring about itsHis radical political views led him to downfall. Marx argued that humanbe exiled from Germany, France and society had progressed thr oughAustria. Though Marx had studied different stages. These were: primitivephilosophy he was not a philosopher. communism, slavery, feudalism andHe was a social thinker who advocated capitalism. Capitalism was the latestan end to oppression and exploitation. phase of human advancement, butHe believed that scientific socialism Marx believed that it would give waywould achieve this goal. To that end to socialism.
70 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY Capitalist society was marked by society. In order to understand thean ever intensifying pr ocess of working of capitalism, Marx undertookalienation operating at several levels. an elaborate study of its political,First, modern capitalist society is one social and specially its economicwhere humans are more alienated aspects.from nature than ever before; second, Marx’s conception of the economyhuman beings are alienated from each was based on the notion of a mode ofother as capitalism individualises production, which stood for a broadpreviously collective forms of social system of production associated withorganisation, and as relationships get an epoch or historical period. Primitivemore and more market-mediated. communism, slavery, feudalism andThird, the large mass of working capitalism were all modes ofpeople is alienated from the fruits of production. At this general level, theits labour because workers do not own mode of production defines an entirethe products they produce. Moreover, way of life characteristic of an era. Atworkers have no control over the work a more specific level, we can think ofprocess itself — unlike in the days the mode of production as beingwhen skilled craftsmen controlled something like a building in the sensetheir own labour, today the content of that it consists of a foundation or base,the factory worker’s working day is and a superstructure or somethingdecided by the management. Finally, erected on top of the base. The base —as the combined result of all these or economic base — is primarilyalienations, human beings are also economic and includes the productivealienated from themselves and forces and production relations.struggle to make their lives meaningful Productive forces refer to all the meansin a system where they are both more or factors of production such as land,free but also more alienated and less labour, technology, sources of energyin control of their lives than before. (such as electricity, coal, petroleum and However, even though it was an so on). Production relations refer toexploitative and oppressive system, all the economic relationships andMarx believed that capitalism was forms of labour organisation which arenevertheless a necessary and involved in production. Productionprogressive stage of human history relations are also property relations, orbecause it created the preconditions relationships based on the ownershipfor an egalitarian future free from both or control of the means of production.exploitation and poverty. Capitalist For example, in the mode ofsociety would be transformed by its production called primitivevictims, i.e. the working class, who communism, the productive forceswould unite to collectively bring about consisted mostly of nature — forests,a revolution to overthrow it and land, animals and so on — along withestablish a free and equal socialist very rudimentary forms of technology
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 71like simple stone tools and hunting CLASS STRUGGLEweapons. Production relations were For Marx, the most important methodbased on community property (since of classifying people into social groupsindividual private property did not yet was with reference to the productionexist) and included tribal forms of process, rather than religion, language,hunting or gathering which were the nationality or similar identities. Heprevalent for ms of labour argued that people who occupy theorganisation. same position in the social production The economic base thus consisted process will eventually form a class. Byof productive forces and relations of virtue of their location in theproduction. On this base rested all production process and in propertythe social, cultural and political relations, they share the same interestsinstitutions of society. Thus, and objectives, even though they mayinstitutions like religion, art, law, not recognise this immediately.literature or different forms of beliefs Classes are formed through historicaland ideas were all part of the processes, which are in turn shaped‘superstructure’ which was built on by transformations in the conditionstop of the base. Marx argued that and forces of production, andpeople’s ideas and beliefs originated consequent conflicts between alreadyfrom the economic system of which existing classes. As the mode ofthey were part. How human beings production — that is, the productionearned their livelyhood determined technology and the social relations ofhow they thought — material life production — changes, conflictsshaped ideas, ideas did not shape develop between different classes whichmaterial life. This argument went result in struggles. For example, theagainst the dominant ways of thinking capitalist mode of production creates thein Marx’s time, when it was common working class, which is a new urban,to argue that human beings were free property-less group created by theto think whatever they wanted and destruction of the feudal agriculturalthat ideas shaped the world. system. Serfs and small peasants were Marx placed great emphasis on thrown off their lands and deprived ofeconomic structures and processes their earlier sources of livelyhood. Theybecause he believed that they formed then congregated in cities looking forthe foundations of every social system ways to survive, and the pressure of thethroughout human history. If we laws and police forced them to work inunderstand how the economy works the newly built factories. Thus a largeand how it has been changing in the new social group was created consistingpast, he argued, we can learn how to of property-less people who were forcedchange society in the future. But how to work for their living. This sharedcan such change be brought about? location within the production processMarx’s answer: through class struggle. makes workers into a class.
72 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY Marx was a proponent of class now hidden, now open fight’. Thestruggle. He believed that class major opposing classes of each stagestruggle was the major driving force were identified from the contradictionsof change in society. In The Communist of the production pr ocess. InManifesto (which was also a capitalism the bourgeoisie (orprogramme of action), Marx and capitalists) owned all the means ofEngels presented their views in a clear production, (such as investible capital,and concise manner. Its opening lines existing factories and machinery, landdeclare, ‘The history of all hitherto and so on). On the other hand, theexisting societies is the history of class working class lost all the means ofstruggle’. They went on to trace the production that it owned (or hadcourse of human history and access to) in the past. Thus, in thedescribed how the nature of the class capitalist social system, workers hadstruggle varied in different historical no choice but to sell their labour forepochs. As society evolved from the wages in order to survive, because theyprimitive to the modern through had nothing else.distinct phases, each characterised by Even when two classes areparticular kinds of conflict between the objectively opposed to each other, theyoppressor and oppressed classes. do not automatically engage inMarx and Engels wrote, ‘Freeman and conflict. For conflict to occur it isslave, patrician and plebeian, lord and necessary for them to becomeserf, guild master and journeyman, in subjectively conscious of their classa word, oppressor and oppressed, interests and identities, and thereforestood in constant opposition to one also of their rivals’ interests andanother, carried out an uninterrupted, identities. It is only after this kind of Activity 2 Although it is also called a ‘class’, does the group formed by you and your classmates form a class in the marxian sense? What arguments can you give in favour and against this view? Do factory workers and agricultural workers belong to the same class? What about workers and managers working in the same factory — do they both belong to the same class? Does a rich industrialist or factory owner who lives in the city and owns no agricultural land belong to the same class as a poor agricultural labourer who lives in the village and owns no land? What about a landlord who owns a lot of land and a small peasant who owns a small piece of land — do they belong to the same class if they live in the same village and are both landowners? Think carefully about the reasons for your responses to these examples. [Suggestion: Try to imagine what interests the people mentioned in these examples may have in common; think of the position they occupy in the larger social system, particularly in relation to the production process.]
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 73‘class consciousness’ is developed way of seeing the world, tends to justifythrough political mobilisation that the domination of the ruling class andclass conflicts occur. Such conflicts the existing social order. For example,can lead to the overthrow of a dominant ideologies may encouragedominant or ruling class (or coalition poor people to believe that they are poorof classes) by the previously not because they are exploited by thedominated or subordinated classes — rich but because of ‘fate’, or because ofthis is called a revolution. In Marx’s bad deeds in a previous life, and so on.theory, economic processes created However, dominant ideologies are notcontradictions which in tur n always successful, and they can also begenerated class conflict. But economic challenged by alternative worldviews orprocesses did not automatically lead rival ideologies. As consciousnessto revolution — social and political spreads unevenly among classes, howprocesses were also needed to bring a class will act in a particular historicalabout a total transformation of society. situation cannot be pre-determined. The presence of ideology is one Hence, according to Marx, economicreason why the relationship between processes generally tend to generateeconomic and socio-political processes class conflicts, though this also dependsbecomes complicated. In every epoch, on political and social conditions. Giventhe ruling classes promote a dominant favourable conditions, class conflictsideology. This dominant ideology, or culminate in revolutions. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) Emile Durkheim was born on April 15, 1858 in Epinal in the Lorraine region of France on the German border. He was from an orthodox Jewish family; his father, grandfather and great grandfather were all rabbis or Jewish priests. Emile too was initially sent to a school for training rabbis. 1876: Enters the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris to study philosophy. 1887: Appointed lecturer in social sciences and education at the University of Bordeaux. 1893: Publishes Division of Labour in Society, his doctoral dissertation. 1895: Publishes Rules of Sociological Method. 1897: Founds Anee Sociologique,the first social science journal in France; and publishes his famous study, Suicide. 1902: Joins the University of Paris as the Chair of Education. Later in 1913 the Chair was renamed Education and Sociology. 1912: Publishes The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. 1917: Dies at the age of 59, heartbroken by the death of his son, Andre in World War I.
74 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY Emile Durkheim may be considered existence of otherwise ‘invisible’ thingsas the founder of sociology as a formal like ideas, norms, values and so ondiscipline as he was the first to become could be empirically verified bya Professor of Sociology in Paris in studying the patter ns of social1913. Born into an orthodox Jewish behaviour of people as they related tofamily, Durkheim was sent to a each other in a society.rabbinical school (a Jewish religious For Durkheim the social was to beschool) for his early education. By the found in the codes of conduct imposedtime he entered the Ecole Normale on individuals by collective agreement.Superieure in 1876 he broke with his It was evident in the practices ofreligious orientation and declared everyday life. The scientifichimself an agnostic. However, his understanding of society thatmoral upbringing had an enduring Durkheim sought to develop wasinfluence on his sociological thinking. based on the recognition of moralThe moral codes were the key facts. He wrote, ‘Moral facts arecharacteristics of a society that phenomena like others; they consistdetermined the behaviour patterns of of rules of action recognizable byindividuals. Coming from a religious certain distinctive characteristics, itfamily, Durkheim cherished the idea must then be possible to observeof developing a secular understanding them, describe them, classify themof religion. It was in his last book, The and look for certain laws explainingElementary Forms of Religious Life that them’ (Durkheim 1964: 32). Moralhe was finally able to fulfil this wish. codes were manifestations of Society was for Durkheim a social particular social conditions. Hencefact which existed as a moral the morality appropriate for onecommunity over and above the society was inappropriate for another.individual. The ties that bound people So for Durkheim, the prevailing socialin groups were crucial to the existence conditions could be deduced from theof society. These ties or social moral codes. This made sociology akinsolidarities exerted pressure on to the natural sciences and was inindividuals to conform to the norms keeping with his larger objective ofand expectations of the group. This establishing sociology as a rigorousconstrained the individual’s behaviour scientific discipline.pattern, limiting variation within asmall range. Constriction of choice in DURKHEIM’S VISION OF SOCIOLOGYsocial action meant that behaviour Durkheim’s vision of sociology as acould now be predicted as it followed new scientific discipline wasa pattern. So by observing behaviour characterised by two definingpatterns it was possible to identify the features. First, the subject matter ofnorms, codes and social solidarities sociology — the study of social factswhich governed them. Thus, the — was dif ferent from the other
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 75sciences. Sociology concerned itself make up the collectivity; we cannot seeexclusively with what he called the the collectivity itself. One of Durkheim’s‘emergent’ level, that is, the level of most significant achievements is hiscomplex collective life where social demonstration that sociology, aphenomena can emerge. These discipline that dealt with abstractphenomena — for example, social entities like social facts, couldinstitutions like religion or the family, nevertheless be a science founded onor social values like friendship or observable, empirically verifiablepatriotism etc. — were only possible evidence. Although not directlyin a complex whole that was larger observable, social facts were indirectlythan (and dif ferent fr om) its observable through patterns ofconstituent parts. Although it is behaviour. The most famous examplecomposed entirely of individuals, a of his use of a new kind of empiricalcollective social entity like a football data is in his study of Suicide. Althoughor cricket team becomes something each individual case of suicide wasother than and much more than just specific to the individual and his/hera collection of eleven persons. Social circumstances, the average rate ofentities like teams, political parties, suicide aggregated across hundreds ofstreet gangs, religious communities, thousands of individuals in anations and so on belong to a different community was a social fact. Thus,level of reality than the level of social facts could be observed via socialindividuals. It is this ‘emergent’ level behaviour, and specially aggregatedthat sociology studies. patterns of social behaviour. The second defining feature of So what are ‘social facts’? SocialDurkheim’s vision of sociology was that, facts are like things. They are externallike most of the natural sciences, it was to the individual but constrain theirto be an empirical discipline. This was behaviour. Institutions like law,actually a difficult claim to make education and religion constitutebecause social phenomena are by their social facts. Social facts are collective representations which emerge fromvery nature abstract. We cannot ‘see’ a the association of people. They are notcollective entity like the Jain particular to a person but of a generalcommunity, or the Bengali (or nature, independent of the individual.Malayalam or Marathi) speaking Attributes like beliefs, feelings orcommunity, or the Nepalese or Egyptian collective practices are examples.national communities. At least, wecannot see them in the same Division of Labour in Societystraightforward way that we can see atree or a boy or a cloud. Even when the In his first book, Division of Labour insocial phenomenon is small — like a Society, Durkheim demonstrated hisfamily or a theatre group — we can method of analysis to explain thedirectly see only the individuals who evolution of society from the primitive
76 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETYto the modern. He classified a society individuals and allows for their needby the nature of social solidarity which to be different from each other, andexisted in that society. He argued that recognises their multiple roles andwhile a primitive society was organised organic ties. The laws of modernaccording to ‘mechanical’ solidarity, society are ‘restitutive’ in nature rathermodern society was based on ‘organic’ than ‘repressive’. This means that insolidarity. Mechanical solidarity is modern societies, the law aims tofounded on the similarity of its repair or correct the wrong that is doneindividual members and is found in by a criminal act. By contrast, insocieties with small populations. It primitive societies the law sought totypically involves a collection of different punish wrong doers and enforced aself-sufficient groups where each person sort of collective revenge for their acts.within a particular group is engaged in In modern society the individual wassimilar activities or functions. As the given some autonomy, whereas insolidarity or ties between people are primitive societies the individual wasbased on similarity and personal totally submerged in the collectivity.relationships, such societies are not very A characteristic feature of moderntolerant of differences and any violation societies is that individuals withof the norms of the community attracts similar goals come together voluntarilyharsh punishment. In other words, to form groups and associations. Asmechanical solidarity based societies these are groups oriented towardshave repressive laws designed to prevent specific goals, they remain distinctdeviation from community norms. This from each other and do not seek towas because the individual and the take over the entire life of its members.community were so tightly integrated Thus, individuals have many differentthat it was feared that any violation of identities in different contexts. Thiscodes of conduct could result in the enables individuals to emerge from thedisintegration of the community. shadow of the community and Organic solidarity characterises establish their distinct identity inmodern society and is based on the terms of the functions they performheterogeneity of its members. It is and the roles they play. Since allfound in societies with large individuals have to depend on otherspopulations, where most social for the fulfilment of their basic needsrelationships necessarily have to be like food, clothing, shelter andimpersonal. Such a society is based education, their intensity ofon institutions, and each of its interaction with others increases.constituent groups or units is not self- Impersonal rules and regulations aresufficient but dependent on other required to govern social relations inunits/groups for their survival. such societies because personalisedInterdependence is the essence of relations can no longer be maintainedorganic solidarity. It celebrates in a large population.
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 77 The Division of Labour in Society discusses the different types of socialpr ovides a good preview of solidarity as social facts. His objectiveDurkheim’s enduring concerns. His and secular analysis of the social tiesef fort to create a new scientific which underlie different types ofdiscipline with a distinct subject society laid the foundation ofwhich can be empirically validated is sociology as the new science ofclearly manifested in the way he society. Max Weber (1864-1920) Max Weber was born on 21 April, 1864 in Erfurt, Germany into a Prussian family. His father was a magistrate and a politician who was an ardent monarchist and follower of Bismarck. His mother was from a distinguished liberal family from Heidelberg. 1882: Went to Heidelberg to study law. 1884-84: Studied at the universities of Gottingen and Berlin. 1889: Submitted his doctoral dissertation on A Contribution to the History of Medieval Business Organisations. 1891: Submitted his habilitation thesis (entitling him to be a teacher) on Roman Agrarian History and the Significance for Public and Private Law. 1893: Married Marianne Schnitger. 1894-96: Appointed Professor of Economics first at Freiburg, and then Heidelberg. 1897-1901: Has a nervous breakdown and falls ill; unable to work, travels to Rome. 1901: Weber resumes scholarly work. 1903: Became the Associate Editor of the journal Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare. 1904: Travels to the USA. Publishes The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1918: Takes up a specially created chair in Sociology at Vienna. 1919: Appointed Professor of Economics at the University of Munich. 1920: Weber dies. Almost all of his major works which made him famous were translated and published in book form only after his death. These include: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946), Max Weber on the Methodology of the Social Sciences (1949), The Religion of India (1958) and Economy and Society (3 vols, 1968).
78 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY Activity 3 Try to compare what Durkheim and Marx say about the social division of labour. They both agree that as society evolves, the social organisation of production grows more complex, the division of labour becomes more detailed, and this creates unavoidable interdependencies among different social groups. But where Durkheim emphasises solidarity, Marx emphasises conflict. What do you think about this? Can you think of reasons why Marx may be wrong about modern society? For example, can you think of situations or examples where people are joining together to form groups or collectivities despite being from different class backgrounds and having conflicting interests? What counter arguments could you give to persuade someone that Marx may still have a point? Can you think of reasons why Durkheim may be wrong about modern society giving more freedom to the individual? For example, isn’t it true that the spread of mass communication (specially through television) has tended to standardise popular fashion in things like clothes or music? Today, young people in different social groups, different countries, states or regions are now more likely to be listening to the same music, or wearing the same kind of clothes than ever before. Does this make Durkheim wrong? What could be the arguments for and against in this context? Remember, sociology is not like mathematics where there is usually only one right answer. In anything to do with society and human beings, it is possible that there are many right answers, or that an answer is right in one context but wrong in another, or that it is partly right and partly wrong, and so on. In other words, the social world is very complex, and it changes from time to time and from place to place. This makes it all the more important to learn how to think carefully about the reasons why a particular answer may be right or wrong in a particular context. Max Weber was one of the leading Max Weber and Interpretive SociologyGerman social thinkers of his time. Weber argued that the overall objectiveDespite long periods of physical and of the social sciences was to developmental ill health, he has left a rich an ‘interpretive understanding of sociallegacy of sociological writing. He wrote action’. These sciences were thus veryextensively on many subjects but different from the natural sciences,focused on developing an interpretive which aimed to discover the objectivesociology of social action and of power ‘laws of nature’ governing the physicaland domination. Another major world. Since the central concern of theconcern of Weber was the process of social sciences was with social actionrationalisation in modern society and and since human actions necessarilythe relationship of the various involved subjective meanings, thereligions of the world with this process. methods of enquiry of social science
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 79also had to be different from the Thus, ‘empathetic understanding’methods of natural science. For Weber, required the sociologist to faithfully‘social action’ included all human record the subjective meanings andbehaviour that was meaningful, that motivations of social actors withoutis, action to which actors attached a allowing his/her own personal beliefsmeaning. In studying social action the and opinions to influence this processsociologist’s task was to recover the in any way. In other words, sociologistsmeanings attributed by the actor. To were meant to describe, not judge, theaccomplish this task the sociologist subjective feelings of others. Weberhad to put themselves in the actor’s called this kind of objectivity ‘valueplace, and imagine what these neutrality’. The sociologist mustmeanings were or could have been. neutrally record subjective valuesSociology was thus a systematic form without being affected by her/his ownof ‘empathetic understanding’, that is, feelings/opinions about these values.an understanding based not on Weber recognised that this was very‘feeling for’ (sympathy) but ‘feeling difficult to do because social scientistswith’ (empathy). The empathic (or were also members of society andempathetic) understanding which always had their own subjective beliefssociologists derive from this exercise and prejudices. However, they had toenables them to access the subjective practises great self discipline —meanings and motivations of social exercise an ‘iron will’ as he puts it — inactors. order to remain ‘value neutral’ when Weber was among the first to describing the values and worldviewsdiscuss the special and complex kind of others.of ‘objectivity’ that the social sciences Apart from empathetic under -had to cultivate. The social world was standing, Weber also suggestedfounded on subjective human another methodological tool for doingmeanings, values, feelings, prejudices, sociology — the ‘ideal type’. An idealideals and so on. In studying this type is a logically consistent model of aworld, the social sciences inevitably social phenomenon that highlights itshad to deal with these subjective most significant characteristics. Beingmeanings. In order to capture these a conceptual tool designed to helpmeanings and describe them analysis, it is not meant to be an exactaccurately, social scientists had to reproduction of reality. Ideal types mayconstantly practises ‘empathetic exaggerate some features ofunderstanding’ by putting themselves phenomenon that are considered to be(imaginatively) in the place of the analytically important, and ignore orpeople whose actions they were downplay others. Obviously an idealstudying. But this investigation had type should correspond to reality in ato be done objectively even though it broad sense, but its main job is towas concerned with subjective matters. assist analysis by bringing out
80 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETYimportant features and connections of Bureaucratic authority isthe social phenomenon being studied. characterised by these features:An ideal type is to be judged by how (i) Functioning of Officials;helpful it is for analysis and (ii) Hierarchical Ordering of Positions;understanding, not by how accurate or (iii) Reliance on Written Documentdetailed a description it provides. (iv) Office Management; and The ideal type was used by Weber (v) Conduct in Office.to analyse the relationship between (i) Functioning of Officials: Within thethe ethics of ‘world religions’ and the bureaucracy officials have fixedrationalisation of the social world in areas of ‘of ficial jurisdiction’different civilisations. It was in this gover ned by rules, laws andcontext that Weber suggested that administrative regulations. Theethics of certain Protestant sects regular activities of thewithin Christianity had a deep bureaucratic organisation areinfluence on the development of distributed in a fixed way as officialcapitalism in Europe. duties. Moreover, commands are Weber again used the ideal type to issued by higher authorities forillustrate the three types of authority implementation by subordinates inthat he defined as traditional, a stable way, but the responsibilitiescharismatic and rational-legal. While of officials are strictly delimited bythe source of traditional authority was the authority available to them. Ascustom and precedence, charismatic duties are to be fulfilled on a regularauthority derived from divine sources basis, only those who have theor the ‘gift of grace’, and rational-legal requisite qualifications to performauthority was based on legal them are employed. Of ficialdemarcation of authority. Rational- positions in a bureaucracy arelegal authority which prevailed in independent of the incumbent asmodern times was epitomised in the they continue beyond the tenure ofbureaucracy. any occupant. (ii) Hierarchical Ordering of Positions:Bureaucracy Authority and office are placed on a graded hierarchy where theIt was a mode of organisation which higher officials supervise the lowerwas premised on the separation of the ones. This allows scope of appealpublic from the domestic world. This to a higher official in case ofmeant that behaviour in the public dissatisfaction with the decisionsdomain was regulated by explicit rules of lower officials.and regulations. Moreover, as a public (iii) Reliance on Written Document: Theinstitution, bureaucracy restricted the management of a bureaucraticpower of the officials in regard to their organisation is carried out on theresponsibilities and did not provide basis of written documentsabsolute power to them.
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS 81 (the files) which are preserved as training and given responsibilities with records. There is cumulation in the the requisite authority to implement decision making of the ‘bureau’ or them. The legal delimitation of tasks office. It is also a part of the public and authority constrained unbridled domain which is separate from the power and made officials accountable private life of the officials. to their clients as the work was carried(iv) Office Management: As office out in the public domain. management is a specialised and modern activity it requires trained Activity 4 and skilled personnel to conduct To what extent do you think the operations. following groups or activities involve (v) Conduct in Office: As official activity the exercise of bureacratic authority demands the full time attention of in Weber’s sense? officials irrespective of her/his (a) your class; (b) your school; (c) a delimited hours in office, hence an football team; (d) a panchayat samiti of ficial’s conduct in of fice is in a village; (e) a fan association for a popular film star; (f) a group of governed by exhaustive rules and regular commuters on a train or bus regulations. These separate her/ route; (g) a joint family; (h) a village his public conduct from her/his community; (i) the crew of a ship; (j) behaviour in the private domain. a criminal gang; (k) the followers of Also since these rules and a religious leader; and (l) an audience regulations have legal recognition, watching a film in a cinema hall. officials can be held accountable. Based on your discussions, which Weber’s characterisation of of these groups would you be willingbureaucracy as a modern form of to characterise as ‘bureaucratic’?political authority demonstrated how Remember, you must discuss reasons both for as well as against, and listenan individual actor was both to people who disagree with!recognised for her/his skills and GLOSSARY Alienation: A process in capitalist society by which human beings are separated and distanced from (or made strangers to) nature, other human beings, their work and its product, and their own nature or self. Enlightenment: A period in 18th century Europe when philosophers rejected the supremacy of religious doctrines, established reason as the means to truth, and the human being as the sole bearer of reason. Social Fact: Aspects of social reality that are related to collective patterns of behaviour and beliefs, which are not created by individuals but exert pressure on them and influence their behaviour.
82 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY Mode of Production: It is a system of material production which persists over a long period of time. Each mode of production is distinguished by its means of production (eg: technology and forms of production organisation) and the relations of production (eg: slavery, serfdom, wage labour). Office: In the context of bureaucracy a public post or position of impersonal and formal authority with specified powers and responsibilities; the office has a separate existence independent of the person appointed to it. (This is different from another meaning of the same word which refers to an actual bureaucratic institution or to its physical location: eg. post office, panchayat office, Prime Minister’s office, my mother’s or father’s office, etc.) EXERCISES 1. Why is the Enlightenment important for the development of sociology? 2. How was the Industrial Revolution responsible for giving rise to sociology? 3. What are the various components of a mode of production? 4. Why do classes come into conflict, according to Marx? 5. What are social facts? How do we recognise them? 6. What is the difference between ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’ solidarity? 7. Show, with examples, how moral codes are indicators of social solidarity. 8. What are the basic features of bureaucracy? 9. What is special or different about the kind of objectivity needed in social science? 10. Can you identify any ideas or theories which have led to the formation of social movements in India in recent times? 11. Try to find out what Marx and Weber wrote about India. 12. Can you think of reasons why we should study the work of thinkers who died long ago? What could be some reasons to not study them? REFERENCES B ENDIX , R EINHARD. 1960. Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, Anchor Books, New York. DURKHEIM, EMILE. 1964. The Division of Labour in Society, (trans. By George Simpson), Macmillan, New York. IGNOU. 2004. ESO 13-1: Early Sociology, IGNOU, New Delhi.