- According to Max Weber, Social Action. Includes human behavior to which an individual attaches subjective meaning. Thus the primary concern of sociology should not be to merely study the human behavior mechanically (using the methods of natural sciences) but to the meanings associated with those actions.
- Thus Verstehen is non-empirical (that is non-positivist), empathic, participatory examination of social phenomena (and not merely mechanical).
It is an interpretative understanding of social action through empathetic liaison and thereby build a sequence of motives in order to trace the effect of social action.
- Empathetic liason –
An outside observer (an anthropologist/ sociologist) relates to indigenous people on their own terms and from their own point of view, rather than interpreting them in terms of his own culture.
Thus observer imaginatively places himself in the situation of those being observed. Therefore though sociologist is a 3rd person, he studies through 1st person perspective. (Therefore value neutrality) (objectively study subjectivity)
- Two types of verstehen –
i) Direct observation Verstehen
ii) Indirect Explanatory Verstehen.
i) Direct observation Verstehen
- It is a microscopic analysis in which the researcher looks into action of a body of people and study meanings behind their actions.(individuals
ii) Indirect Explanatory Verstehen –
- A macro-scopic analysis in which the researcher tries to understand not individuals but historic situations
- It does not involve “observation” but “Explanation” which is sought in culture, ethos, religion, etc.
- Eg. “Protestant Ethics and the spirit of capitalism.”
Thus Verstehen is a comprehensive methodology that uses not only macro but also micro analysis. Weber proposed Verstehen not as an alternative to other methods in sociology but a supplementary to other methods. It helps sociologist to gather sufficient information about the reality.
Limitations of Verstehen
(i) Cultural Context
Before applying this sociologists must understand the cultural context in which the action is being performed. He must have full knowledge of the situation
(ii) Cooked Truth
Every individual is strong information that is not to be shared with anyone even if somebody develops close proximity. Therefore certain amount of information is always cooked.
(iii) Value-neutrality and objectivity –
Consciously or unconsciously researcher is inclined to apply his prejudices, preferences, experiences, culture to research. Therefore value – neutrality and objectivity can’t be maintained.
Eg: M.N. Srinivas is a Brahmin sociologist who places Brahmins at the top and Dalits at the Bottom of caste hierarchy.
Dipanakar Gupta – studied Jat villages in Western U.P. where entry of Brahmins in villages is prohibited as it is considered inauspicious. Kanchi Ilaiah is a Dalit sociologist who rejects Brahmi Supremacy.
Ideal Type – (II)
Reality is vast, unorganized and chaotic. Therefore it is not possible for sociology to study the entire reality. It can study only core or essence of reality. To study this essence of reality Weber proposed Ideal type.
Weber defined it as “One sided (purposeful exaggeration) accentuation” of one or more points of view. It is a purposively constructed model that acts as a guide for the researcher to study the essence of reality.
What is to be included and what is to be ignored depends upon the view pointed selected. Therefore it is a “Selective Model” that studies selective aspects of reality. Eg: Two class model of Karl Marx is an ideal type. He mentioned only certain aspects of reality (but he constructed it unconsciously) Therefore, a purposive model – a selective model
Characteristics of Ideal Type –
(i) Ideal type is neither actual type nor average type but approximate type -
Average type model represents those elements that are most commonly found. But, Ideal types does not look at most common elements but at the elements which researcher wants to study.
Also, since it cannot study the entire reality it is not actual type but only an approximate type.
(ii) Ideal type is neither good, nor bad –
Elements of idea type may or may not attend to the reality. If it does not conform to reality them it has performed it function of guiding the research. If it conforms to reality then also it has performed its function of guiding the research. Thus it is a neutral type.
(iii) It is not ideal in terminological perfect sense but in logical sense –
It is a purposively constructed model that aims at understanding the reality and formulating a theory. Thus it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
(iv) Exaggerations –
Though it is derived from the real world, it is not supposed to be a mirror image of that world. Rather it should be one sided exaggeration (based on the view point selected)
Criticism of Ideal type
(i) Some sociologists argue that Its tend to focus on extreme phenomena (one sided accentuation) and overlooks the connections between them. Also it is difficult to show how the types and the elements fit into a social system.
(ii) While endorsing Its, Weber gives contrasting statements on one hand he proposes that researcher must strive for value-neutrality, on the other hand he gives complete discretion to the researcher to formulate Ideal Type. This is bound to bring values to the research.
Eg: M.N. Srinivas, Dipankar Gupta and Kanchi Ilaiah on caste
Uses of Ideal Type –
(i) It acts as a guide for the research.
(ii) Since entire reality cannot be studied, only it core can be studied. Ideal type helps in exercising this selectivity. Eg: Religion à In any religion there are varieties of cults, sects, ideologies, deities, etc. Thus it is very difficult to study totality of religion. By developing ideal types we can look into religion through major divisions, sub-divisions, ideologies and rituals.
(iii) It brings precision to analysis (that is brings us closer to reality) as it is created and modified.
(iv) Helps in comparison with reality in order to find out divergences and similarities. Eg:- Ideal type Bureaucracy
(v) Helps in understanding historical problems –
Eg :- Implementation of land reforms + Modernization – Breaking of joint family system.
Helps in developing causal explanation of events.