Sociology and Rationalization

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 5 January 2017

Sociology and Rationalization

The social world consists of drastic changes over centuries. The social world we now live in today is also continuously changing over improvements in technology. These technological advancements were the result of rationalization5 modern society. Rationalization was a major theme in most of Max Weber’s writings, especially the Spirit of Capitalism: The Protestant Ethic. Max Weber explained the major shift that occurred from a traditional society to modern society. The rationalization that was to occur was widespread, and rational technique would spread to the entire state according to Weber.

Although Weber spoke about various types of rationalization, he gave distinct and specific examples of how rationalization would play out in modern activities of the state. In the examples he gave, bureaucracy and codification of law were major consequences of rationalization. First, in order to understand the way rationalization was created in economic, social and political spheres of society, we must understand the definition itself. We must identify the root cause of rationalization and what transformed traditional society.

It is also vital that the significance of rationalization to modern society is also understood. The traditional social world comprised of activities influenced by religious forces. These religious forces had no form of development; it strictly relied on personal insight, revelations, emotions and feelings, beliefs and faith. Obtaining knowledge was blocked, and theology was the only route available. The traditional society also relied heavily on magic and supernatural to explain occurrences in the social world. These were features that were the direct opposite of rationality.

Catholicism was a prevalent religious affiliation that featured non-rational thought in daily affairs. The only way you would approach God is through the priests. Yet, Weber did not state that religion was all-irrational, and mythical. In fact, he stated that religion would also lead to modern capitalism and rationalization. Weber believed that the Puritan and Calvinist would be would create rationalization through their religious beliefs. The religious belief consisted of predestination, which meant that God predestines who goes to hell or heaven and who’s going to be saved.

He referred to it as ‘elect’, those who would be chosen by God to attain salvation. (Weber) No one would know if they were the chosen to be saved, so Puritans tried to find a sign for salvation, and created a dogma that through ‘good works in vocation’ (), you will be able to redeem yourself and receive salvation. These good works would be present in hard work and labour in which you must be successful in order to receive the calling. This dogma would lead to capitalism because individuals would strive to be highly productive and think of business methods that would produce effective and efficient results.

Capitalism consisted of rational acquisition of goods, accumulation of capital and assets, competitive markets, division of labour, and exchange of goods. Here we can see the major transformation of theological reasoning to knowledge based thinking. Capitalism is the basis of formal rationalization. (Definition and Why capitalismrationalization) This is a significant change in society because it transformed the way people thought, and it transformed the way people engaged in daily activities. Formal rationality was apparent through the features of bureaucracy.

With the onset of capitalism, many individuals involved in business activities began to think of rational ways to sell, trade, and make profit. This meant to think of plausible, reasonable, realistic, and efficient ways of operating businesses to spurt growth and capital. Bureaucracy was a way all of the conditions above could be met. Bureaucracy in simple terms can be defined as a body of members joined together for managing a organization by specializing functions by departments, administrating fixed rules for the whole organization, and keeping a hierarchy of authority.

Bureaucracies are heavily goal-oriented and although every individual in the organization may have a different task or specialize in a different skill area, they are all working towards a similar goal. The reason for breaking up the organization in different departments is rational itself. It creates efficiency, just like Adam Smith’s division of labour. Everyone will work hard because of religious onset of hard work leading to salvation. Yet, this hard work is not limited to this reason only, in fact the reason for hard work is also rational.

The individuals that work harder and provide successful results for the betterment of the entire organization will receive promotion based on achievement, which was one feature of bureaucracy. This will give them the rationale to push themselves for successful work. Another feature that of bureaucracy that is rational is to have a written rules of conduct, because since there is a hierarchy of authority, each person may take advantage of their position and slack off, or even not work towards the overall goal of the organization.

By having a codebook, even those with authority must abide by the same rules giving a more rational basis for hierarchical set-up of an organization. Lastly, the hierarchy itself is rational. The information must start from somewhere, and if everyone were given the same position they would fight over what is a better idea. Instead in a bureaucracy, individuals will be prescribed a position based on their skills and talent level, and they would provide information through the chain of command, directions flowing from the top to bottom.

Along the way, those who specialize in different departmental areas, will adjust the major plan so it best suits the organization’s end goal. This process itself is to ensure efficiency and is rational also, as no tensions will occur between different departments because each department will have a different task in the commands imparted to them by higher authorities, and no one can fight or resist their authorities. Everyone will co-operate and work together to ensure a end-goal that is successful for everyone.

This interpretation Weber provided of formal rationalization in modern society is significant because in a technical point of view you will be able to meet your end goal as a state or in an organization by using a bureaucratic system. According to Weber, he states: “It is superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its discipline, and in its reliability. It thus makes possible a particularly high degree of calculablity of results for the heads of the organization and for those acting in relation to it.

It is finally superior both in intensive efficency and in the scope of its operations…” (Weber, ) Another interpretation of rationalization can be observed through codification of laws in society. At one point in feudal society, most people relied on one individual such as the monarchy—the king or queen, as the final law. There was nothing written or established as a set of rules set in standard for everyone. The law could be seen as the personal whim of the leader. An example of irrational traditional laws were the separate laws set out for the noble and the commoners of England’s medieval society.

You would not be able to execute nobility unless they tried to kill the king. Even if they went to jail, they were allowed to take servants with them to continue living noble. On the other hand, the poor, the commoners would suffer immediate consequences, which especially included execution. This was unjust, and was completely irrational because it relied solely on personal allegiance and loyalty to one authority, and people did not reason out or think about the fairness or equality of these laws. Codifying laws means that these laws should be written out formally by the government in power.

This means the law will apply equally, but similar crimes should have similar punishments. This is the most rational thought for society, since crime is bad no matter who commits the crime. It will be for the betterment of society, since it is rational for everyone to want to live in a safe and secure place. Writing laws in books will also be beneficial to future generations to come, so in case a similar occurrence happens, the codified law will attest to the punishment that is appropriate. This is also rational.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 5 January 2017

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