The primary proponent/theorist of social actions theory is German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), who also, along with Durkheim and Marx, is considered one of the fathers of sociology.
To Weber, a cultural action was an action carried out by an individual that a person attached a meaning, an action that takes into account the presence and feasible reaction of others. In other words, if you do not think about a task, it is not a social action. So an accidental auto accident or a sneeze are NOT cultural actions. Also, if an actions does not consider the existence and possible result of others (i, e. no-one knows about that but you) it is also not a social action. So (for example) whacking off inside the shower or praying in non-public are NOT social actions.
Cultural action could be explained, in respect to Weber, in two levels of understanding (or 'Verstehen'). The first is 'direct observational understanding' (or 'aktuelles Verstehen'). For instance , you can see that someone is definitely upset by way of a facial expression. If you see a person hitting wood with his axe, you know he is cutting up wood. However this is just the initial level of understanding.
The second level of understanding can be 'explanatory understanding' (or 'erklarendes Verstehen'), that is certainly, understanding the social action depending on the meaning/motive behind his act. Was the woodcutter reducing to generate a income, build a open fire or to job off anger? To achieve this kind of understanding it is necessary to imagine yourself in their condition to try and reach the purposes behind all their actions.
To Weber even this standard of understanding can be not enough: to get a full causal explanation you need to understand what provided rise towards the motives at the rear of the interpersonal actions.
Weber goes on to detail in wonderful length some great benefits of bureaucracy and rational authority, but I assume that's off-topic. Source(s):
Haralambos and Holborn sociology book
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