Sociology Index

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Action theory is a sociological perspective that focuses on the individual as a subject. Action theory views social action as something purposively shaped by individuals within a context to which they have given meaning. Action theory approach has its foundations in Max Weber'sinterpretive theory’ which claims that it is necessary to know the subjective purpose and intent of the actor before an observer can understand the meaning of social action.

Those sociologists who focus on Action Theory tend to treat the individual as an autonomous subject, rather than as constrained by social structure and culture. In action theory, the individual is seen as exercising agency, voluntarism, giving meaning to objects and events and acting with intent. While Max Weber insisted on the power of society and historical context in giving shape to human action, some sociologists adopting action theory have been accused of neglecting the influence of social structure and culture on people's behavior.


The Creativity of Action. - Joas, Hans. Translated by Jeremy Gaines and Paul Keast.
Hans Joas is one of the foremost social theorists in Germany today. Based on Joas's celebrated study of George Herbert Mead, this work reevaluates the contribution of American pragmatism and European philosophical anthropology to action theory in the social sciences.

Joas argues for adding a third model of action to the two predominant models of rational and normative action, one that emphasizes the creative character of human action. This model encompasses the other two, allowing for a more comprehensive theory of action. Joas elaborates some implications of his model for theories of social movement and activism and social change and for the status of action theory in sociology in the face of competition from theories advanced by Luhmann and Jurgen Habermas.

Rational action theory for sociology. John H. Goldthorpe.
Abstract: Rational action theory is not a highly unified intellectual entity. Varieties of rational action theory are distinguished in terms of three criteria: i.e. according to whether they (i) have strong rather than weak rationality requirements; (ii) focus on situational rather than procedural rationality; (iii) claim to provide a general rather than a special theory of action.