At its most fundamental level, sociology is the study of how societies form, function, and fluctuate. This type of analysis largely originated with a rising interest in understanding the many effects that the industrial revolution had on society. As sociologists began to study these effects, many branched off into focusing on aspects of society that were of particular interest to them. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, there were sociologists studying topics ranging from individual human intellect to sociological factors creating a “color line” between whites and nonwhites. The three foremost sociologists during this foundational time of sociology are Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, and Max Weber. These sociologists’ writing and ideas have been invaluable in establishing sociological frameworks and are still widely discussed and used today. Although they each approached sociology from a unique perspective, their views provide insight into approaching many different sociological issues. This paper will focus on the life of Max Weber, the many facets of his teaching, and the implications of his far-reaching ideas.
Although he is most widely recognized as Max Weber, his full name was Karl Emil Maximilian Weber (Rao and Singh 73). He was born on April 21st, 1864, when the industrial revolution had largely changed the methods of production throughout Europe (Mitzman). Although he was born in Erfurt, Prussia, his family moved to Berlin when Max was still young because his father, who was a politician, became more active in the German government (Mitzman). His education at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Berlin were both important stages of Weber’s educational experiences. However, it was through personal influences from his extended family and parents that Weber came to develop many of his perceptions on the workings of life. During this time, all male German citizens were required to serve in the military, and Weber served in between his time at the University of Heidelberg and his terms at the University of Berlin (Mitzman). Being exposed to the teachings of his Calvinist mother and authoritarian father, Max Weber gained a sense of controversy and societal struggle from a young age, which was an idea that would influence much of his later work.
After finishing his education and moving away from his parents, Weber gained a position at the University of Berlin to be a professor of Jurisprudence (Mitzman). While working as a professor at a variety of universities throughout Germany, the ideologies of his parent’s began to express themselves in Weber’s actions. His interest in politics, which stemmed from his father’s work, was aligned with the unchallenged discipline that he had learned from his puritan mother. He married Marianne Schnitger while he was a professor and although they would never have children together, her influence would be vitally important to the recognition of his work after he died (Sharlin 111). In fact, his works did not receive international recognition until she had many of his writings published and she even wrote his biography (Sharlin 112).
Like most sociologists, Max Weber studied the aspects of society that he had observed the most in his own life and the facets of life that he found most interesting. As a result, Weber’s main focus centered on an idea called social action, which is the “actions people take in response to others – with emphasis on the forces that motivate people to act” (Ferrante-Wallace 20). Additionally, his role in politics led him to analyze many elements concerning political systems and the methods that governments use to establish standards (Roth 307). However, Weber did more than simply add to the knowledge concerning these topics, he also changed the way that these sociological aspects would be measured. Weber stated that he was “a partisan in methodological matters,” meaning that he studied sociology in the same was that a chemist might study reactions: in an objective and scientific manner (Roth 306). Some of the most important topics unveiled by Weber are his definitions of bureaucracy, authority, oligarchy, and rationalization (Elwell). For each of these terms, he outlined its meaning, components, and implications for life, which are still being discussed and used today.
Ultimately, Weber’s influence on sociology is immeasurable. Although he died in 1920 at the age of 56, his legacy still stands (Mitzman). His writings remain monuments in his field and his applied methods of sociological studies are still being used to analyze aspects of society that Weber might never have considered. It is clear to see why Max Weber’s name is so strongly associated with the field of sociology and why he remains as one of the foundational thinkers to modern thought.
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