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's interpretive 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.
Rational action theory for sociology
John H. Goldthorpe - British Journal of Sociology - Volume 49 Issue No. 2 June l998
Abstract: Rational action theory (RAT) is not a highly unified intellectual entity. In the
first part of the paper, varieties of RAT 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.
Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action
- by Pierre Bourdieu, Randal Johnson (Translator)
Joas, Hans The Creativity of Action.
Translated by Jeremy Gaines and Paul Keast. x, 336 p. 1997
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 also establishes direct ties
between Mead's work and approaches drawn from German traditions of philosophical
anthropology. 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.