When discussing and learning sociological theory, it is certain that Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are to be among the great theorists mentioned. Considered the “father of modern sociology,” Durkheim made advancements in the fields of criminology and deviant behavior, as well as other topics within sociology. Weber’s ideas of class, status and parties give sociologists greater perspective concerning modern social structure and social and political revolution in general. Although the theories of both Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are important to sociological theory, it is upon recommendation that Weber’s work be discussed in more detail due to its increased generalizability, predictability, and novelty when compared to Durkheim’s theory.
In order to understand how Weber’s work is more important to study than Durkheim’s, it is essential to identify the main aspects of each theory. Weber felt that the study of sociology should be approached through examining the modes of action, with action being defined as purposeful and meaningful behavior. The main focus of this idea is that action has become more rational over time, in what Weber called rationalization.
This concept of rationalization is the suggestion that throughout the course of history, behavior has been more carefully planned, articulated, and deliberate, with the goal that the means are to bring about the most desired ends. Unlike Weber, Durkheim placed emphasis on the structure of society. He insisted that sociology was not only the science of society, but that human actions draw from society, not the individual behavior or motivations. He also felt that social structure and culture were entities separate from people, and that this structure served as a function that forces individuals to act within the confinements of society. Thus, human behavior is essentially the function of society, and not the other way around.
Since Weber argued that sociology should be examined through human behavior, and Durkheim made the case for social structure, then it can be said that these two theorists have obvious conflicting views. Thus, in a debate over which approach is better, a measure of generalizability can be useful in determining the winner. When explaining trends in deviant behavior, delinquency, and suicide, Durkheim’s work is the best route to take, and without a doubt he is the most influential sociologist in the previously mentioned fields. Essentially, Durkheim makes the case that since deviant behavior is defined as “going against cultural norms” that the structure of society places a set of limits on what is considered culturally acceptable behavior, and therefore, behavior does serve as a function of society.
However, although they are important, Durkheim’s views are limited. Weber challenges Durkheim’s notions, and his concepts of human behavior in society can be used to explain social change, revolution, and politics. For example, his theory can be used to give reasons for the Jewish Holocaust and the linkage between the Protestant Ethic and capitalism. Formal rationalization, which in short states that the ends justifies the means helps provide answers to how a high ranking Nazi officer could give an order to kill a few thousand people. The Nazis had a desired goal of world dominance, and one of the steps in insuring that power, was to weed out the alleged weaker beings. Thus, their desire justified their behavior, because the end result was what held the most importance. The link between the Protestant Ethic and Weber’s notions is clear through his notion of rational thought. When the Protestant faith eliminated the need for intercession between man and God, it created individual responsibility to each person. This created an ethic of work geared towards investment and saving, which advances capitalism. God became more distant and detached from the world, and thus the world became increasingly reliant on the human conscious and rational action. The Jewish holocaust and the Protestant Ethic are two examples of how Weber’s theory can be used to explain human life; however, his theory is not limited to these illustrations. Thus, it is fair to say that when compared to Durkheim, Weber’s theory is more generalizable, meaning that it can be used to explain several different areas or phenomena of human life.
Weber’s theory not only has more generalizability than Durkheim’s, but it also has more predictability. Once again, Durkheim’s theory focuses on the structure of society, and not each social structure is exactly the same. Nonetheless, many of the same problems that exists in society “ a”, exists in society “ b”, which demonstrates that there must be other factors involved with norms and behaviors in society that are completely unrelated to its structure. If Durkheim’s theory was predictable, then societies with identical or close to identical structures would have similar crime rates and social issues. However, evidence supports that there are several countries that are very similar to the United States with significantly lower crime rates. On the other hand, due to the fact that Weber’s theory gets the same, or at least similar results every time, his theory is more predictable. Over time, society has become increasingly more planned out and thorough, and regardless of the society, it seems to be the case that class, status, and party are independent from one another. It is totally plausible for a Latin American woman to be a Republican doctor apart of the American Medical Association, and live in the ghetto. She is considered to be apart of the lower class, not because she lives in the ghetto, but because instead of working in a nice hospital, she has devoted her time and energy into a free clinic in the inner city, and thus, does not make enough money to live outside of the ghetto. However, she still holds a high status since she is a doctor, but her class does not match her status, and her party does not stereotypically match her class. This can be seen all over the world through missionary doctors, pro-bono lawyers, and even lottery winners.
Lottery winners usually come from a lower status, but can still be apart of the upper class due to their wealth. Weber’s conceptions of class, status, and party are predictable in the sense that they are independent of one another, and one does not predict the other, which is what makes Weber’s ideas more predictable. Weber would also contend that although patterns need to be identified in society, that the context of these patterns need to be analyzed carefully and not be asserted as absolute laws of human behavior. This allows for more predictability because, within similar contexts alike behavior occurs, which takes place more often than similar behavior with unalike circumstances.
Just as Weber’s ideas have more generalizability and predictability than Durkheim’s, they also have more novelty. This can be particularly seen in Weber’s notions of understanding, or as he called it, “verstehen.” Weber felt that it was important to study and understand how people gave meaning to their actions. This is truly original for his time period, because for many years prior to Weber, researchers and sociologists had focused on the action without any thought about the intentions or meaning behind it. Someone being burned at the stake for treason does not hold nearly as much insight unless the story was told that the executed person’s treason was that he/she stood up for their belief that God was more powerful than the king. Hearing that a woman viciously killed her husband may sound horrendous without knowing it was after she caught him raping her two year old child. Weber studied sociology this way, and that is what makes his ideas more creative than Durkheim. Although Durkheim’s conception of anomie, the potential for disorder due to weak conflicting or absent norms and limitless wants, created a way for self exploration and human growth, it did not change sociology as Weber’s theories.
In conclusion, Weber’s theory should be examined over Durkheim’s because it has more generalizability, predictability, and novelty. It is clear that Weber’s notions of rationalization, capitalism, class, status, party, and versthen make his sociological theory better than Durkheim’s ideas of solidarity, anomie, and social facts. Therefore it is highly recommended that Weber be included on the syllabus rather than Durkheim.