Max Weber's (1864-1920) theories have been instrumental in shaping modern sociological thought. The social and intellectual context of Weber's writing, his major concepts and theoretical assumptions, and development of his theories will be discussed. In addition, the theoretical issues of freedom versus determinism and Weber's image of man will be examined. The nature of Weber's theory relative to its theoretical orientation will also be discussed. Finally, the impact of Weberian theory and its strengths and weaknesses will be covered.
Weber, a German social scientist, had a major influence on modern sociology and the history of ideas, in general. Some of his areas of contribution were the following: important studies on social organization; the nature of the modern state, jurisprudence and ethics, authority and leadership, and most notably, the relation between religion and capitalist economics. Weber's degree in law and doctorate and economics earned him prestigious appointments in economics at the universities of Freiburg, Heidelberg, and Munich, but he had to sporadically leave his posts because of emotional breakdowns. He edited the influential Archive for Social Science and Social Policy and contributed many monographs to it. He wrote the multivolume study, Economy and Society, but most of it was published and translated posthumously. The above statement is relevant because it reflects the fact that Weber's critical acceptance has exceeded his lifetime, and today he is regarded as a seminal thinker among sociologists. In his lifetime he was considered alongside Marx's shadow, and, as will be discussed, his own recognition was somewhat compromised.
The introductions from several critical studies and collections of essays on Weber help to put his theories into a modern social and intellectual context. In his Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity, Lash puts into perspective Weber's "gigantic enterprise":
As we ...