Applying Social Action Theory to Social Issues

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1373
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College


German philosopher and historian Max Weber is worth mentioning among the fathers of sociology. The discipline was recognized as a separate one in the second half of the 19th century, after its complete formation and separation from several other fields of knowledge. Weber’s views have made a substantial contribution to “developing a full understanding of society and social change” (Thompson, 2017). The main reason why that happened is the complexity of his perspective, as it combines structural and action approaches.

Weber was the first to generalize about human behaviors, which is the structural component of his social action theory. According to him, there are four basic types of motivation that, in turn, can be divided into a variety of subtypes. Those types determine human action and are frequently dependent on the society or group an individual belongs to in one way or another (Thompson, 2017). Therefore, the meanings attached to certain actions by the doer and the observer can be dramatically different. It is, subsequently, not enough to observe what people are doing, because a simple observation does not explain the purpose of their behavior. Meanwhile, the latter is essential for assigning a meaning to the action and evaluating it from an ethical viewpoint.

I chose Max Weber for the description since my views are close to his. Diverse social interactions have taught me that the real motivation of a person is not necessarily the one I believe him or her to have. For instance, in case somebody does not reply to my message, they may be ignoring me by intent, but also may be busy or distracted by something. I have noticed that people from various environments behave differently in the same situations, and the same actions may have several meanings, which aligns with Weber’s theory.

Social Issues

Although the notion, hence topic, of social issues, may seem to be excessively wide, it becomes more structured through the lens of the social action theory. Akujobi and Jack define a social issue, or a social problem, as “a condition” that “is seen as violating certain fundamental values and beliefs about how society should operate” (2017, p. 518). Weber highlights that various societies adopt and encourage different motivations and, subsequently, actions. This allows assuming that the criteria to rely upon in identifying whether a particular phenomenon is a social problem or not also vary from society to society. This conclusion makes the topic especially interesting and has encouraged me to focus on it more closely.

History and Major Concerns of the Topic

Social issues, doubtlessly, appeared together with the society itself; and throughout history, it has been a difficult task to reach a consensus on what exactly an issue is. Not every problem of a separate individual becomes public, and not all members of a society see a certain condition as a problem. Furthermore, defining a condition as a social problem presupposes gathering and processing a large scope of information within a short time. This is the probable reason why the earliest attempts at a theoretical presentation of social issues are dated to the 20th century (Akujobi & Jack, 2017). Since the 1920s, a range of definitions has been offered, but they are all based on the same characteristics.

Those characteristics regard the origin as well as possible consequences of any social issue, notwithstanding the sphere of life, it is related to. A social problem is a deviation from normal whose causes are social and frequently political. Its consequences are social too since they pose a threat to society and can “affect all sections” of it (Akujobi & Jack, 2017). Ubiquity is one of the main concerns associated with social issues, as it means that all members of society are potentially endangered. Another concern is an inevitability that derives from the fact that social problems are intertwined with social change, which is a natural evolutionary process.

The fact that social problems are integral to the development of society drives the conclusion that it is hardly possible to eliminate problems. Although a particular one is in most cases manageable, new issues emerge as soon as the society enters the next phase of its development. Although a concept of an ideal society is dramatically utopic, it serves as the key reference point in classifying or not a particular condition as a social issue. Notably, everything that is deviant from the “ideal situation” can be considered a problem (Akujobi & Jack, 2017, p. 518). By contrast, such a definition makes the classification even more difficult, because the view of an ideal situation cannot be homogenous in a society whose members have different opinions and values.

Taking all the above into account, it would be reasonable to highlight that another concern related to social issues as a phenomenon is their vagueness. As long as different groups, hence individuals, have a different perspective of what society should look like, a consensus on what threatens this society and what does not is impossible. Nevertheless, the majority of social issues could become less acute when regarded from the perspective of Weber’s social action theory.

How to Improve the Topic

The essence of any social problem lies in a collision between different paradigms that gradually reaches their critical point. Applying the classification of human motivations Weber offered would allow for a better understanding of an opposing paradigm, which, in turn, is likely to smooth the conflict. The major concern is that the individuals who perceive somebody else’s views readily and respectfully make up the vast minority of humanity.

In addition, Weber is known to have described two types of understanding, notably, direct observational and empathetic ones. The former, which is originally called Aktuelles Verstehen, presupposes observation of what people are doing; optionally, also guessing their emotional state from their facial expressions, gestures, and mimics. The latter, Erklarendes Verstehen in the original, means identifying the reason why people are doing that (Thompson, 2017). Although the latter is crucial in establishing a symbiotic relationship, most of the population only confine themselves to the former.

Considering the aforesaid, social issues would probably be less numerous and serious if people took each other’s motivation into account before taking umbrage at actions. Thus, such a problem as sexism is based on mutual sex-determined hatred that derives from the behaviors of the representatives of both genders. Meanwhile, in some cases, the motivation for those behaviors may not involve insulting anyone; nor any other personal motifs. For instance, an employer may have fired that particular employee not because she is female, but because of her incompetence or improper actions, which changes the entire situation completely. If everybody cared about the reasons, conflicts would be less likely to grow serious and global.

The Future of the Topic

At the current stage, the existing social issues are getting acuter and acuter, presumably, in the background of the pandemic. First, the latter made the population across the world more frustrated and aggressive, hence contributing substantially to the level of crime as well as protest sentiment. Second, it revealed multiple imperfections in infrastructure and health care industry even in developed countries. Even such a problem as the insecurity of cyberspace became more apparent due to the pandemic, which has resulted in the spreading of fake information and conspiracy theories outstandingly fast. The Create Digital engineers mention the above consequences among the challenges the world will most probably face in the nearest future (Create Digital, 2020). Therefore, the upcoming decade will hardly be marked by smoothing any social problems.


A social issue or a social problem is a socially determined phenomenon that is beyond the concept of normality and threatens all groups of the population. Solving such problems as well as the emergence of new ones both correlate with the natural evolution of society, for which reason the issues are inevitable and impossible to eliminate. Nevertheless, some of them could be downplayed by applying Max Weber’s theory of social action. In brief, if people tried to identify each other’s motivation rather than focusing on actions, the degree of mutual hatred, which is the root of many social problems, would be lower. In the nearest future, however, the existing issues will most probably grow more serious as a consequence of the pandemic-related crisis.


Akujobi, C. T. & Jack, J. (2017). Social change and social problems. In Abasiekong, E. M, Sibiri, E. A, & Ekpenyong, N. S. (Eds.), Major themes in sociology: An introductory text (pp 491-526). Mase Perfect Prints.

Create Digital. (2020). 10 global challenges the world will face in the next 25 years – according to engineers. Web.

Thompson, K. (2017). Max Weber’s social action theory. Web.