Discuss the theory of ideal type.
Weber defines Ideal Types as –“an analytical construct that serves the investigator as a measuring rod to ascertain similarities as well as deviations in concrete cases.” In other words, it is a methodological tool that helps to make sense out of the ambiguity of social reality.
There are a few characteristics of Ideal Types that should be kept in mind. First and the foremost characteristic of ideal types is that they do not exist in reality. Although, ideal types may be formulated and put together on the basis of number of elements of reality but it does not mean that you can find actual examples of ideal type in the real world. Ideal types are theoretical tools whose function is to aide in the better understanding of reality by acting as a standard of comparison. Therefore, ideal type can be thought of as a hypothetical construction, based on real phenomenon, which have explanatory value To explain this Giddeons gives the example of Weber’s work on the protestant ethic. He explains that the protestant ethic are taken from the writings of historical figures and involve those components of the Calvanist doctrine essential to formation of capatslist spirit according to Weber. But this ideal type does not indicate to the existence of any definite aspect of reality
Weber lays a lot of emphasis on the fact that the ideal types are mental constructs that depends on an individual’s ability to discern, comprehend and imagine the problems that are important and interesting enough to look into. Therefore, an ideal type can said to be subjective in nature since the problems that define the objectives of interest may be different for different people and therefore is not free from an individual’s value system or opinion. Ideal type can therefore be construed as a “one-sided model”. This concept intentionally focuses on those problems thought to be worth theorizing and testing. In this sense, it is purely selective. There might be ideal type created for “perfect health”, state of equilibrium, church, perfect religion, etc.
Ideal types should not be mistaken for descriptive types and the former differ from the later in that the, the first aims to focus on a specific phenomena where everything selectively emphasizes on one point of view whereas the other is a mere collection or sum total of common features of groupings of empirical phenomena. Therefore, it can be said that Ideal types do not act as an exhaustive account of a particular social phenomena. They do not correspond to a tool which can be used to build an average type. For example, the Protestant Ethic does not aim to provide us with the average conduct of all the Protestants.
Ideal types refer to ”pure” or ”abstract” types and are not concerned with ethical ideal. Weber mentions clearly that Ideal type has “no connection at all with value- judgements and it does not imply that there should be any type of perfection other than a purely logical one.” Weber therefore suggests that ideal types can be formulated of brothel as well as religion. Totalitarianism is as perfect an example for an ideal type as democracy is. This is true because in both the cases, comparison can be made between the actual political system and the abstract theoretical construction to bring out their various characteristics more clearly. It serves as a “methodological device”. It is not ideal in the sense that it gives no consideration to the fact whether ideal type is ethically sound or right.” Ideal types are not hypotheses:
The only objective of the formulation of an Ideal type is to explain and to facilitate the analysis of empirical question and therefore does not aim at proving or disproving facts and at establishing general laws. Ideal types are flexible and can be redefined to suit the changing social condition Weber suggested that major discrepancies between reality and an ideal type would lead to the type being redefined. To get a complete and comprehensive understanding of Ideal types it becomes imperative to look at why was the theory of Ideal type formulated. Susan J Heckman suggests that Weber constructed the theory of Ideal types to address a specific set of problems caused by the methodological discussions of his day that challenged the tools and concepts used in his work. Defending the approaches used in his work Weber argued that the purpose of the concepts of the social sciences, most commonly, is to synthesize meaningful, characteristic aspects of individual phenomena in order to explain the occurrence of social events and not to focus at only individual uniqueness of the phenomenon and general commonalities among phenomena. According to Weber it is the ideal type, not the individual concept, which is the characteristic tool of the social scientist. Weber’s theory of ideal type served dual purpose on the one hand it helped to explicitly and formally lay down the conceptual activity of the social scientific investigator and on the other hand it provides a common basis for the different varieties of ideal types the social scientist unconsciously and therefore ambiguously use in their research work.
The uniqueness of the theory of ideal type lies in its special process of selection and synthesis. Weber brings our attention to two features of the process . First, the collection of the facts, on the basis of which the ideal type is constructed, should be looked at in the framework of its “cultural significance,” which corresponds to the meaning which the social actors attribute to their actions. Second, the synthesis of selected aspects of this category of culturally significant facts must take cognizance of the relationships of meaning and significance logically compatible with the theoretic interest informing the investigation and the logic of the social actors’ This means that to comprehend a certain phenomenon, an individual must not only describe the actions of its participants but “interpret” them as well. But interpretation poses a problem for the investigator who has to attempt to classify behavior as belonging to some prior “ideal type”. The concept of interpretation here refers to the Weber’s definition of interpretive sociology. Weber defines sociology as ” a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects. In “action” is included all human behaviour when and insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it. Action in this sense may be either overt or purely inward or subjective; it may consist of positive intervention in a situation, or of deliberately refraining from such intervention or passively acquiescing in the situation. Action is social insofar as, by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting
individual (or individuals), it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course.” Therefore the scientific analysis of social action, in so far it proceeds beyond mere description, proceeds through the construction of ideal type.
Weber described four categories of “Ideal Type” behavior: zweckrational(goal-rationality); wertrational(value-rationality), affektual(emotional –rationality) and traditional(custom, unconscious habit)
Zweckrational (goal rationality) : All such actions are classified into this category in terms of rational orientation to a system of discrete indivisual ends, that is, throught expectation as to the behavior of objects in the external situation and of other human individuals, making use of these expectations as ‘conditions’ or ‘means’ for the successful attainment of the actor’s own rationally chosen ends I would like to conclude by mentioning a few criticisms leveled against Weber’s theory of Ideal type. I would like to begin by saying that the concept of ideal type has received mixed reaction. Though, there are a few social theorist who regard this as a notable contribution and have appreciated this by making it an intregal part of their approaches. Majority of theorist feel that the concept has become obsolete and is no longer relevant to contemporary problems in social sciences. These social theorist put forth the argument that the ideal type analysis should be rendered utterly inappropriate to sociological analysis since it only seeks to involve the meaningful understanding of particular phenomenon and not aims at developing general concepts and general theories.
1. Capitalism and modern social theory- Giddens , Anthony
2. The theory of social and economic organization- Weber, Max 3. Weber’s Ideal Type: A contemporary assessment – Susan J. Hekman