Max Weber & Modernity

Summary of Video #9 of Crash Course Sociology.

Weber said that the biggest change distinguishing modernity from traditionalism was a difference in the way we think i.e. ideas. Weber’s work examined some of the defining characteristics of the modern world, focusing on rationalisation, bureaucracy and social stratification.

Rationalisation: Traditionalism sees the world as having a basic order, and that order is the way things ought to be. Weber argued that the Protestant Reformation began the transformation to modernity, where the world become more rational. His definition of rationality included calculability, methodical behaviour, and reflexivity. That is, modern society is a society of explicit instructions and standardised methodical procedures which are always being reflected on and improved. According to Weber, the sociological consequence of the Protestant Reformation was that it transformed a communal, traditional society into an individualistic capitalist society focused on economic success.

Bureaucracy: Weber argued that the rise of bureaucracy was one of the biggest impacts of the rationalisation of society. The modern state is an apparatus of rules which are ultimately directed by a group of characteristic leaders.

Social stratification: Weber argued that the system for social stratification was more complicated and consisted of 3 elements which could vary independently: class, political parties and status groups.

Weber worried that people would become locked in an “iron cage” of bureaucratic capitalism, where our lives would be nothing but a series of interactions based on rationalised rules with no personal meaning behind them.


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