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Ideal Type

Ideal Type

BIBLIOGRAPHY

An ideal type is a methodological construct developed by German sociologist Max Weber (18641920). Key to his formulation of ideal types is a focus on what motivates social action. Weber believed that we can understand human action by discovering the subjective meanings actors attach to their own behavior and to the behavior of others. For Weber, subjective meanings are important in understanding the laws and regularities that create and govern social structures. It is possible to discover these regularities because uniformity of social action is widespread; actions are frequently repeated by the same individual and they correspond to the subjective meaning the actors attach to them.

An ideal type serves as a way to determine similarities as well as deviations found in empirical cases. Ideal types do not refer to moral ideals or to statistical averages; they do not describe an individual course of action, or an ideal case, but a typical one. They are analytical constructs that enable the researcher to develop hypotheses linking the types with the conditions that brought about the event, phenomena, or social structure, or with consequences that follow from its emergence. Because they are composites of all the necessary features of an act or action, these types rarely appear in real life and do not represent the only possibility for a particular course of action. In other words, ideal types do not exhaust or fully reflect concrete reality. Rather they are analytical tools that allow the researcher to find features that are common among all the varied and unique social and historical realities in order to conduct comparative analyses. Classifying types of motivated action allows us to make systematic typological distinctions, such as between types of authority, while also providing a basis for investigating historical developments.

Weber distinguishes four basic ideal types to describe motivated social action: zweckrational, wertrational, affectual, and traditional. He organizes these types of action in terms of their rationality and irrationality. Zweckrational action is social action in which individuals rationally choose both goals and means. Wertrational action is characterized by striving for a goal, which in itself may not be rational, but which is nonetheless pursued rationally. Affectual social action is grounded in the emotional state of the actor, rather than in the rational weighing of means and ends. Traditional action is guided by customary habits of thought, by reliance on the way its always been done. Webers concern is with modern European and North American society, where he saw behavior increasingly dominated by goal-oriented rationality, whereas earlier it tended to be motivated by tradition, affect, or value-oriented rationality.

The most understandable type, according to Weber, is zweckrational action because it determines rationally organized and administered structures like bureaucracies. Bureaucratic organizations are characterized by deperson alization, routinization, predictability, and the rational calculation of costs and benefits. Using ideal types, Weber was able to argue that the characteristic form of modern institutional organizations, such as the state, the corporation, the military, and the church, is bureaucratic.

SEE ALSO Bureaucracy; Weber, Max

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trans. and eds. Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Max. 1947. Max Weber: The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Ed. Talcott Parsons; trans. Talcott Parsons and A. M. Henderson. New York: Free Press.

Weber, Max. 1978. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Eds. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich; trans. Ephraim Fischoff et al. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Deborah L. Rapuano

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"Ideal Type." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/ideal-type

ideal type

ideal type Ideal types in sociology are most closely associated with the name of Max Weber, although as a method of investigation and explanation they are more commonly found in economics, for example in the concept of the perfect market. For Weber, the construction of an ideal type was clearly a heuristic device, or method of investigation. An ideal type is neither an average type nor a simple description of the most commonly found features of real-world phenomena. Thus one does not construct an ideal type of bureaucracy by finding the features that are shared by real bureaucracies. Nor is ideal used normatively in the sense of a desirable objective.

Perhaps the best way of thinking about ideal types is as ‘idea types’; that is, something which the sociologist works out in his or her head with reference to the real world, but selecting those elements that are most rational or which fit together in the most rational way. Thus the ideal type of bureaucracy embraces those aspects of real bureaucratic organizations that fit together in a coherent means–end chain.

Implicit in Weber's work is the notion that constructing an ideal type is a way of learning about the real world. This is situated within a rationalist view of the human sciences: namely, that we all share a rational faculty, and the fact that we can think and act rationally gives order to the world. Thus, by constructing a rational ideal type, we learn something of how the world works. We can then learn more, by comparing the ideal type with reality, looking at how and why the real bureaucracy might differ from the ideal type. We do not end with a model of what a bureaucracy is, or of what it should be, but of what it might be if it were entirely rational. In this way we can learn much from the sources of apparent irrationalities in real bureaucracies.

The method is a difficult one and owes much to the neo-Kantian philosophical tradition from which Weber came. Anglo-Saxon sociologists have had trouble with it, and often treat ideal types as a sort of hypothetical model which can be tested against reality, thus giving Weber's account (at least) a distinctly positivist gloss. The best account will be found in Susan J. Hekman , Max Weber and Contemporary Social Theory (1983)
. See also IMAGES OF SOCIETY.

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"ideal type." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Ideal type

Ideal type. A key concept and strategy in the study of religions, introduced by M. Weber. Because of the complex and fluid nature of social (and thus of religious) phenomena, Weber realized that observations of actual instances have to be described through the isolation of characteristic features: examples are ‘economic man’, ‘marginal man’, ‘sect’, ‘church’, ‘Gemeinschaft’ (a group in which social bonds are based on close personal ties of kinship and friendship), ‘Gesellschaft’ (secondary relationships prevail, i.e. of a formal, contractual, specialized, impersonal; or expedient kind). Weber insisted that ideal types are never found in pure, uncontaminated form.

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"Ideal type." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Ideal type." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ideal-type