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Social action theories reject the idea that social behaviour is constrained by society and is a product of external forces that individuals have no control of. Individuals' actions are influenced by others' attitudes and behaviour, resulting in a society where people interact by interpreting how others act and the meaning behind their actions. It is suggested that norms and values are flexible guidelines; individuals apply meanings to social behaviour to find out how to act in a given situation.

The following theories belong to the category of social action theories:

Social action theory

The social action theory coined by Max Weber argues that social order is created from the bottom up, constructed by the society's members in everyday life using commonsense knowledge. In this process, actions do not have fixed meanings: it depends on how the individual interprets the action. Weber categorizes individual’s actions into 4 types:

Instrumentally rational action – where the actor calculates the most efficient means of achieving a given goal.

Value rational action – action towards a goal which is desirable for its own sake (ie Believing in God to get to heaven)

Traditional action – customs, habitual actions, which are often automatic

Affectual action – action which expresses emotion.

Symbolic Interactionalism

In symbolic interactionalism, the world is created through action and interaction. Actions are given meanings by individuals interpreting them, while choosing a suitable response in return. This means individuals must put themselves “in other’s shoes”, to act in a way desirable towards others.

Key ideas:

-The interpretive phase is carried out by an individual when he/she sees an action to try to find out its meaning.

-Society functions because each individual acts as others require them to do so, which allows members of the society to agree on different things, or to have a consensus.

-Typifications are created through interpretation, which is the creation of socially desirable action. It is necessary for social order.

Phenomenology

Ethnomethodology

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