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Weber’s concept of rationality and rationalisation are central to his theoretical, conceptual and methodological writings. He used these concepts with reference to Protestanism, capitalism, bureaucracy, social action and ideal type construction. He also discusses the nation of rationality in sociological investigation and value-free sociology.

Rationality refers to those ideas and behaviour which are logically coherent and consistent and amenable to empirical knowledge. Rationalisation refers to the process whereby rationality is applied to various aspects and activities of life. The conviction that rationality is the distinctive characteristic of human beings has made it a central theme in western philosophy for over two hundred.  According to Weber, the modern western world is characterised by rationality. Rationality and the process of rationalisation are very much related to rational action. Weber thought that all spheres of society, viz.., the economical political and legal spheres, in modern world underwent the process of rationalisation. To Weber rationalisation mean that “principally there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the sprits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious power existed.”126 Rationalisation depends on the two types of activities:

  1. Strategies of social action; and
  2. adjustments of the means and ends of the action in attainment of goals.


Weber made distinction between the concept of rationality and the process of rationalisation. Weber referred to various ways to understand rationality in term of “Economical rationality”, “Instrumental rationality”, “Value rationality”, formal and substantive rationality”.128 On the other hand, Weber discusses different forms of rationality and categorised there on for broad typed: formal, substantive, practical and theoretical. In this context, “rationalisation refers to the overall historic process by which reality is increasingly mastered by calculation, scientific knowledge and rational action. Rationality, by contrast, is term weber used to refer to the capacity of social action to be subject to calculation in the means and ends of action”.129  Weber argues that action in modern society is based on the orientation of the actor and the social situation of action. For example, Scientist, Lawyers, administrators and policy makers may have different forms of rationality.

Weber discussed four types of rationality in this work:

(a)  Formal,

(b)  Substantive;

(c)  Practical; and

(d)  Theoretical or technical..


(a) Formal Rationality:


            The first and most important types of rationality, according to Weber, is formal rationality. It involves means-ends calculation. Weber used this term to designate the amount of quantitative calculation and accounting procedure that goes
 into an action or decision.130 formal rationality occur with r
eference to “universally pragmatic self-interests, and   regulation”.131Bureaucracy and rational-legal authority-based system may be considered as formal rationality. This form of rationality is also found in the economic, legal, political, and scientific situations. It is because of universally applied rules, laws, and regulations. In fact, Weber described capitalism and bureaucracies as “two great rationalising forces”.

To make it more clear, Weber described the overall effect of the formal rationalisation of the economy and bureaucracies on the western world. In economy and society, Weber says:

This whole process of rationalisation in the factory as elsewhere, and especially in the bureaucratic stage machine. Parallels the centralisation of the material  implements of    organisation in the hands of the master. Thus, discipline inexorably takes over ever larger areas as the satisfaction of political and economic needs is increasingly rationalised. This universal phenomena more and more restricts the importance of charisma and of individually differentiated conduct.


(b)Substantive Rationality:


A second form rationality directly orders action into patterns through clusters of values. Weber used this term to refer to the degree to which action is shaped by an orientation to values regardless of the nature of the ends or outcome of action. “Substantive rationality involves a choice of means to end within the context of a compatible system of values”. In other words, any value system that is compatible is substantively rational. Weber believed that formal and substantive rationality are opposed, and that ultimately substantive rationality views formal rationality as inimical to its own purpose.


(c) Practical rationality:

A third form of rationality discussed by Weber is practical rationality. Kalberg defined practical rationality as “Every way of life that views and judges worldly activity in relation to the individual’s purely pragmatic and egoistic interests.”people who practice practical rationality accept given reality. Within the framework of practical rationality, all the means of procuring desired ends are viewed as ‘techniques’ or strategies rather than as systems of values which are adhered to on the basis of ethical standards or criterion of action.138 It means practical rationality is concerned with ‘techniques’ based means to get desired ends. Practical rationality does not have believe on religious ideas and in metaphysical philosophical interpretation of either means or ends.


(d)Theoretical Rationality:

The last or fourth type, rationality, according to Weber, is theoretical rational “ Theoretical rationality involvesacognitive effort to master reality through increasingly abstract concepts rather than through action”. In fact, theoretical rationality imposes on reality by conceptual reasoning in terms of induction, deduction and soon. Theoretical rationality acts by producing an “image of the world” by means of abstract concepts and conceptualisation. Theshift from practical to theoretical rationality leads toadeparture from the concrete world to the world of abstraction with the aim that the actor transcend daily realities inaquest to understand the world asa meaningful cosmos. The effect of theoretical rationality on action is limited. Theoretical rationality, therefore, undertakes an orientation to reality in the realm of theoretical understanding.

In addition to differentiating among four types of rationality, Kalberg also deals with it from the perspective of methodical ways of life. “Practical rationality lacks this ability because it involves reactions to situations rather than efforts to order them. Theoretical rationality is cognitive and, therefore, has a highly limited ability to suppress practical rationality and seems to be more of an end product than a producer”. To Weber, substantive rationality is the only type with the “potential to introduce methodical ways of life”. Finally, subjugation of practical rationality leads to the development of formal rationality due to enormous emphasis on a methodical ways of life.





Max Weber has discussed in detail the concept of bureaucracy.  He has discussed this concept in the context of social power and prestige. Indeed,  bureaucracy is an administrative organization in which the distribution and classification of the power is of a particular kind . Bureaucratization is the result of the emergence of rational on a large scale. As weber  puts it once it is fully established , bureaucracy is among these social structure which are the hardest to destroy . bureaucracy is the means of carrying , community action over into rationally ordered social action .therefore ,as an instrument for societalizing relation of power bureaucracy has been and is a power instrument of the first order for the one who controls the bureaucratic apparatus . Under otherwise equal condition a social action  which is methodically ordered and led is superior to every resistance of mass or even of communal action , where the bureaucratization of administration has been completely carried through. , A form of power relation is established that is practically unsubscribe.

Functional  Features of Bureaucracy

Max Weber has enumerated characteristics feature s of Bureaucracy . These are as follows :


  1. Hierarchy of positions

 In Bureaucracy there is a hierarchy arrangements of posts and position s. In Bureaucracy there is  one chief functionary and under him there are several assistants , each of whom has in turn many assistant under him.


  1. Impersonal rules.

    The Bureaucracy set up is strictly governed by rules and regulations These rules and regulations are impersonal and impartial. This lends permanence and contiuty to the Bureaucrac functioning in Bureaucracy no person is indispensable. The Bureaucratic set up is like a machine in which the parts can be easily replaced without impairing the work of machine .thus it is the laws and not persons that make the Bureaucracy work .


  1. Clear and specified functions .

    In bureaucratic set up each member whether low or high in the hierarchy has his function determined and specified .the basis of the division of labour is efficiency and ability .the more able and efficient personal occupy higher wrings in the hierarchy .If  this principle is violated ,the Bureaucratic set up is liable to break up.


  1. Rules of control

    In Bureaucratic set-up the superior office exercise control over his juniors . however this control is not due to personal qualities of the officer but is on account of rules and regulations.


  1. Seperation between administrators and owners


    In a Bureaucratic set up the owners of an enterprise is not necessarily the highest officer . Indeed if an organization requires highly technical personnel .the owner may have no role in the actual  operation s of that organization.


  1. Lack of monopoly

    In Bureaucracy no person has monopolistic control and therefore no person is indispensable. If need be any person can be replaced .Or transferred.


  1. Written Rules , Decisions and commands

    In a Bureaucratic set-up all rules, regulations and decisions are reduced to writing in order to avoid ambiguity and misuse .To write down all laws and definition is very necessary for smooth functioning of Bureaucracy. Weber regards this feature as highly important part of bureaucracy .though some other decisively call it mere paper work .


  1. Expert Training

    The office management in bureaucracy is carried on by  means of expert training.


  1. Technical competence

    Employment and promotion in bureaucracy depends upon technical competence and specialised skill of the personnel in different positions .In is this characteristic which is responsible for technical superiority of bureauracy in the face of any other form of organisation .Weber writes. Precision ,speed unambiguity , knowledge of the flight continuity , didcretion unity strict subordination ,reduction of friction and of material and personal costs these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureauratic administration and especially in its monocratic form .As compared with all collegiate honorific and vocational forms of administration trained bureauracy is superior on all these points .And as far as completed tasks are concerned paid Bureaucratic work is not only more precise but in the last analysis it is often cheaper than even formally undermined honorific service.


  1. Full time vocation

     As the official work involves a it is efforts , bureaucratic office holding is a full time vocation .It requires total working capacity of the official.


  1. Selection

    Bureaucratic appointment are made not by election but by selection based upon definite rules specified by contract.

  1. Pecuniary benefits .

         Employment carriers with it provision for pecuniary benefits such as salary with a progressive grade along with perks in the form of free funnished or unfurnished residence , vehicle traveling  allowance ,medical disbursement, equity share , bonus and so on .The prestinge of a bureaucratic post is very much determined by the pecuniary benefits that it carries with it.


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