Theories of Max Weber. Theory of Model Of Bureaucracy & Theory Of Social Action


Max Weber was a German sociologist, philosopher and political economist. His ideas influenced social theory, social research and sociology. With Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, he is considered as one of three founding architects of sociology. He presented his own theories regarding stratification, bureaucracy. social action, and economy.

(2) Theory Or Model Of Bureaucracy

Max Weber theory or model of bureaucracy can be explained in the following words:

  • (i) Definition of bureaucracy
  • (ii) Characteristics of bureaucracy

(i) Definition Of Bureaucracy

He never gave definition of bureaucracy: for him, bureaucracy was an administrative body of appointed officials.

(ii) Characteristics Of Bureaucracy

Max Weber described the following characteristics of bureaucracy:

  • (a) Administrative class
  • (b) Hierarchy
  • (c) Division of work
  • (d) Official rules
  • (e) Impersonal relationships
  • (f) Official records
  • (g) Appointment
  • (h) Promotion

(a) Administrative Class

Bureaucratic organization generally have administrative class:

  • (a-i) Responsibility
  • (a-ii) Main features

(a-i) Responsibility

Administrative class is responsible for maintaining coordinative activities of the members of the organization.

(a-ii) Main Features

Followings are main features of administrative class:

  • (u) Paid & whole-time employees
  • (w) Selection
  • (x) Salary & privileges
  • (y) Tenure
  • (z) Proprietary interest

(u) Paid & Whole-Time Employees

Administrative class consists of paid and whole-time employees.

(w) Selection

These employees are selected for the purpose of employment

(x) Salary & Privileges

These employees receive salary and are entitled to some privileges.

(y) Tenure

Rules and regulations of the organization determine tenure of these employees.

 (z) Proprietary Interest

These employees do not have any proprietary interest in the organization.

(b) Hierarchy

There is hierarchy of positions in every bureaucratic organization. In fact, every bureaucratic organization follows the principle of hierarchy: lower office is subject to control and supervision of a higher office.

(c) Division Of Work

Work of bureaucratic organization is divided on the basis of specialization to take advantages of division of labour. And division of labour is made for four purposes:

  • (c-i) Area of competence
  • (c-ii) Areas of operation
  • (c-iii) Areas in which official must abstain
  • (c-iv) No work is left

(c-i) Area Of Competence

Division of labour is to ensure that each office has a clearly defined area of competence within the organization.

 (c-ii) Areas Of Operation

Division of labour is to ensure that each official knows the areas in which he is to operate.

(c-iii) Areas In Which Official Must Abstain

Division of labour is to ensure that each official knows that areas in which he must abstain from action so that he does not overstep the boundary between his role and those of others.

(c-iv) No Work Is Left

Division of labour is to ensure that no work is left uncovered

(d) Official Rules

Top administration makes rules, regulations and procedures to govern continuous administrative process within the organization. These rules, regulations and procedures are for some benefits:

  • (d-i) Operations & decisions
  • (d-ii) Receptacles of past learning
  • (d-iii) Protection of employees/servants
  • (d-iv) Equality of treatment

(d-i) Operations & Decisions

They standardize operations and decisions within the organization.

(d-ii) Receptacles Of Past Learning

They serve as receptacles of past learning.

(d-iii) Protection Of Employees/Servants

They protect employees/servants.

(d-iv) Equality Of Treatment

They ensure equality of treatment.

(e) Impersonal Relationships

There is impersonality of relationships among the members of bureaucratic organization. The decisions are completely impersonal and are governed by rules and rational factors. The decisions are not guided by factors like emotions and sentiments.

(f) Official Records

The administration of bureaucratic organization is supported by a system of record-keeping. The decisions and activities of the organization are formally recorded and preserved for future reference.

(g) Appointment

The bureaucrats are neither elected nor inherited. Rather they are appointed through selection. And the basis of selection is their technical competence.

(h) Promotion

The bureaucrats are promoted on the basis of technical qualifications and performance.

(3) Functions Of Bureaucracy

Followings are functions of bureaucracy:

  • (i) Government policies
  • (ii) Laws
  • (iii) Policy-formation
  • (iv) Administration
  • (v) Advisory function
  • (vi) Legislation
  • (vii) Semi-judicial work
  • (viii) Financial function
  • (ix) Record-keeping
  • (x) Public relations

(i) Government Policies

Bureaucracy is to carry out and implement government policies.

(ii) Laws

Bureaucracy is to implement laws.

(iii) Policy-Formation

Bureaucracy provides the data, which political executive needs for policy-making. In fact, it formulates several alternative policies and describes the merits and demerits of each. Then the political executive selects and adopts one of such policies.

(iv) Administration

Bureaucracy is to run the day to day administration in accordance with the policies. laws, rules, regulations and decisions of the government.

(v) Advisory Function

Bureaucracy is to advise the political executive whenever the political executive needs it.

(vi) Legislation

It plays an important but indirect role in law-making. It drafts the bills that are submitted to the legislature for law-making.

(vii) Semi-Judicial Work

Several types of cases and disputes are settled by bureaucracy.

(viii) Financial Function

It plays an important role in financial administration. It advises the political executive for financial planning, tax-structure and tax-administration. It collects taxes and settles disputes involving recovery of taxes. It also plays a vital role in preparing the budget.

(ix) Record-Keeping

It systematically keeps all government records.

(x) Public Relations

It also plays important role in public relations: it works as a bridge between public and government.

(4) Concept Or Theory Of Social Action

Max Weber’s concept or theory of social action can be explained in the following words:

  • (i) Definition of social action
  • (ii) Characteristics of social action
  • (iii) Types of social action
  • (iv) Sociology & social action
  • (v) Criticism against Max Weber’s concept or theory of social action

(i) Definition Of Social Action

Social actions are the conscious or intended actions that are oriented towards others.

(ii) Characteristics Of Social Action

Max Weber described followings characteristics of social action:

  • (a) Conscious
  • (b) Other person
  • (c) Meaning or purpose
  • (d) Influence

(a) Conscious

Social action must be conscious.

(b) Other Person

Social action must be oriented towards other person.

(c) Meaning Or Purpose

There must be a meaning or purpose behind the social action, and such meaning or purpose must be for the person, who does the social action.

(d) Influence

The person, who does the social action, wants to influence the other person, but it is not necessary that the other person must get influenced.

(iii) Types Of Social Action

Max Weber mentioned following types of social action:

  • (a) Zweek-Rational Social Action
  • (b) Wert-rational social action
  • (c) Affective-rational social action
  • (d) Traditional social action

(a) Zweek-rational social action

(a-i) Meaning

Zweek literally means logical or rational: a zweek-rational social action is that social action in which the person, who does it, chooses the most logical means out of all options to achieve his goal.

(a-ii) Example

To study hard to get first position is a zweek-rational social action.

(b) Wert-Rational Social Action

(b-i) Meaning

Wert literally means value: a wert-rational social action is that action, which is oriented towards the benefits or good of society.

(b-ii) Example

To give donations or to do voluntary services is a wert-rational social action.

(c) Affective-Rational Social Action

(c-i) Meaning

Affective-rational social action is that action, which is outcome of emotional orientation like love or hate, fear or favor.

(c-ii) Example

To praise or abuse someone is an affective-rational social action.

(d) Traditional Social Action

(d-i) Meaning

As tradition is an expected behaviour, which is outcome of imitation of an ancestor and which continuously passes from one generation to another generation, therefore a traditional social action is that action, which is imitation of an ancestor.

(d-ii) Example

To respect the elder is a traditional social action.

(iv) Sociology & Social Action

Max Weber has stated that sociology is the study of social action: social action is subject matter of sociology, and sociology is to study all the four types of social action.

(v) Criticism Against Max Weber’s Concept Or Theory Of Social Action

 (a) Parsons’ Criticism

Parsons criticizes Max Weber’s concept of social action. Max Weber has suggested that social action is oriented towards another person. But Parsons considers that social action does not require another person, and, therefore, every action is a social action.

(b) Pareto’s Criticism

Pareto criticizes Max Weber’s theory of social action: non-logical action plays important role in individual life, but Max Weber ignores it.


It can be finally stated that Max Weber’s theories had great impact on twentieth century sociology. On the one hand, he challenged Emile Durkheim’s claim: he added social action as a new subject matter of sociology. On the other hand, he invented, introduced and explain new term that was bureaucracy.

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