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Weber and Durkheim: Theories of Rationalisation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2148 words Published: 24th Feb 2017

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Rational has a number of specialized meanings depending on which subject matter. Humans are generally considered to be being of rationality. However, when it comes to financial success, humans who are driven by greed have a tendency to act irrationally. This essay will discuss the statement with reference of Weber’s rationalisation theory and Durkheim’s division of labour theory. Weber refers to the change of tradition ideas into calculability idea sparks the spirit of capitalism, bureaucracy as an administration to capitalism and also recognise the probability of irrationality of rationality. On the other hand, Durkheim explain how human are social beings through mechanical and organic solidarity but also recognise the issue specialisation and diversification may face. Thus, this essay will discuss the statement with reference to Weber and Durkheim theories and also use contemporary example such as McDonalization and Starbucks diversification to understand how workers act in the purse financial success.

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Weber defined rationalisation as a change in the social trend whereby traditional norms or values and replaced with the idea of technical and calculation of utility when performing a task. This is clearly shown in one of Weber’s most important and famous studies, The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism (1965), where he describes the emergence of rationalisation from the turn of events during the time of Protestantism which in turn gives birth to the spirit of capitalism. The rise of rational capitalism and the change of social structure are highlighted through the Calvinist theory. Calvinism is an act to dedicating oneself to hard work in order to obtained god’s ‘grace’ and secure a place in heaven after life (Weber, 2011). The profit gained from the hard work should not be used for sinful consumption but it is to be invested back into the business. Since material success was used a gauge to measure how ‘blessed’ is someone, this resulted in the emergence of a new work ethic within the Calvinists people, who always work hard round the clock and reinvesting back everything they owned have caused them to unintentionally became capitalists. This is further supported by Weber interpretation of Benjamin Franklin’s work regarding the topic of money. In his book, Benjamin Franklin says that ‘time is money and to waste time is to waste money’ (Lemert, 2009). The fact of Benjamin not concern with surviving but with making money as much as possible is an ethic peculiar capitalism. This ethic of pursuing as much money disregards the idea of your wellbeing as the most important thing in life is sign of spirit of capitalism.

Now, we shall look at Emile Durkheim’s view, who is another famous sociologist. In his book, The Division of Labour, Durkheim emphasise on the important of solidarity in the society. Society needs to have some form of cohesive force in order to hold humans together (Durkheim, 2014). Durkheim identifies 2 type of such cohesion which he classifies it as mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. In mechanical solidarity, similarity and homogeneity is the key aspect present in a group (Grint, 2005). Individuals come together because they share the same likeness and this makes people feel connected through similar work, belief and lifestyle. Individual wouldn’t feel autonomous, because the society here is a collective cohesion (Morrison, 2006). Mechanical solidarity usually refers to the old times where it is found in villages and small towns. An historical example of mechanical solidarity can be seen through farmers before the industrialisation. In contrast to mechanical solidarity, organic solidarity is where people are held together because of their difference where society is now specialised and diversified (Durkheim, 2014). The division of labour requires everyone to depend on each other. In organic solidarity, individuals are bound together because each person adds something different to the group and everyone is considered to be valuable. Durkheim argued that the connection between people grow stronger as division of labour increase because this add dependency on each other for survival. Judging from this, we can say human can make rational action when pursuing financial success because of the diverse knowledge and different opinion of so many specialised individuals in the group (Gibbons et al., 1994). Hence, they are able to make rational decision.

As can be seen from Weber and Durkheim’s work, they both agree humans are rational being (Watson, 2008). We can see a shift of human effort from traditional norms towards rational efforts aimed at achieving economic gain. According to Weber, Protestantism is not the cause of capitalism but the idea of pursuing capital gain give rise to capitalism (Weber, 2011). The money earned becomes its own end and rational capitalism is born. Much like Weber’s view on rationalisation, Durkheim says the development of the division of labour has led to the decline of collective conscious, which is the sharing of similar beliefs and ways, are replaced with specialised and diverse individuals as a product of modernisation (Durkheim, 2014). Traditionally, achieving human satisfaction is the more important than achieving capital gain (Coleman, 1988). But under capitalism, the relation is reverse which cause it to be irrational. Weber believed that industrialization was leading to a growing influence of rational ideas and thought in culture, which, in turn, led to the bureaucratization of society. According to Weber, bureaucracy is the most efficient administration towards capitalism. Bureaucracy can be used as a tool or ideology to coordinate the increasingly pursuit of rational profit in society. Weber’s ideal bureaucracy must have characteristics such as division of labour, hierarchical structure, written rules and regulations, fixed salaries, promotion based on performance (Grint, 2005). However, Weber and Durkheim both are aware that theories of bureaucracy and specialisation are bound to face some issues and limitation.

Bureaucracy is considers efficient and rational because people with expert calculability and knowledge are the ones behind it. Bureaucracy can be seen as an organisation put together to achieve a specific goal (Lemert, 2009). Most of the time, this goal is related to shareholders’ interest, which is to maximise wealth. However, there are a few issues with bureaucracy which has been criticised by other sociologist such as. One of the issues faced by a worker in a bureaucratic organisation is that all form of bureaucracy is built from the basis of rules and regulations. Workers are confined to the rules set by the organisation and there are consequences of breaking it. Since most bureaucratic organisation exercise a top down pyramid like structure, shareholders are the one who decide the direction and goal of the company and it’s up to the managers to manage the employees to achieve it. In other words, individual freedom of a worker has been compromised (Fry, 1989). Furthermore, monthly targets are set for worker and if the worker wants a promotion of pay raise, he is expected to perform well. This is because the promotion in a bureaucratic organisation is based on the performance and qualification of the worker. With all this expectation and the employee personal capital needs, they are motivated to work hard in order to be recognised. This might lead into irrational behaviour such as working tirelessly round the clock and neglecting one’s own heath in order to achieve the target set by management (Weymes, 2004). Organisation is run in the interest of shareholder is because shareholders are the ones that invest and supply the capital to run the business. Weber understood the possibility that bureaucracy might face with obstacles because the red tape that undermined the interest and control of the organisation (Grint, 2005). What start off as a rational administration can turn out to become something irrational. Although market power has increased, workers are still tied down to status, property and identity which can be viewed as the ‘iron cage’ (Morrison, 2006). Individual must not relies solely on bureaucratic control for rationality but instead self-rationality must be present in every individual in order to not confine into the iron cage.

Additionally, Durkheim’s theory may lead to irrational behaviour too. When a group become more segmented, integration and coordination will be more of a problem (Korczynski et al., 2006). Specialisation will cut down an organisation values and culture. Task specialisation and delegation of work can improve efficiency but this comes at the price of cohesion at work, as too much division will cause worker to be aimless and thus losing sight of the main objective (Lawrence & Lorsch, 1986). What may appear to be rational for the organisations may not be rational for the workers. Likewise, managers who are specialisation orientated gets to choose to promote a particular division rather than the whole organisation. This can be viewed as an irrational behaviour if the manager is doing it for his own personal benefit but regardless of the reason behind the manager’s action, an act like that is consider to be unfair to worker in other division.

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We now can take a look at some contemporary examples of rationality that a few market leaders are practicing today. Weber’s theory of rationalisation can be closely related to McDonalization. McDonalds is a popular fast food company that has franchise all over the world. McDonalization is a process where the growing industry of fast food can be seen to be dominating more and more sectors of society and the world (Ritzer, 2004). McDonalds is so successful today is because it offers workers and managers calculability, predictability, control and efficiency. Calculability is a main dimension of both rationalisation and McDonalization. The management in McDonalds focus on the quantitative aspects of work instead of quality since the job scope doesn’t vary and there is a high dependency on machines. Workers are judges based on how fast they solve a given task. Workers in McDonald’s follow a certain rules and protocol when they carry out their job or interact with customers (Leidner, 1993). Control in McDonalds is explained by how workers are trained to operate the machines to cook the burgers and fry can be a mundane task. This can be associated with the lifestyle of assembly line workers. Lastly, McDonalds stress on efficiency by installing closed-circuit television camera to monitor how efficient their employee works. Similar to Weber, Ritzer thinks that a rational business will inevitably have irrationalities that is dehumanising. As we can see, Weber and Ritzer both agree that bureaucracy and rationalisation will spawn the irrationality of rationality.

On the contrary, a contemporary example of Durkheim’s organic solidarity can be seen by how Starbucks include diversity in their company’s strategy. Starbucks recognise the importance of diversification and included it as one of the organisation’s responsibility (Starbucks, 2014) Starbucks is one of the most recognised coffee brands in the world and stand out as a market leader. Starbucks main attraction are their coffee and coffee beans. However, the company is slowing moving into the pastries and fruit juices in order to capture more audience from the market. There are some critiques that points out the dangers of diversification for a big organisation like Starbucks. People relate Starbucks to coffee, and this might cause the new products to not sell. However, as we can see, Starbucks has been able pull it off successfully. It is reported that the company profits from the first three quarter of fiscal year grew by 11.7 per cent to $9.9 billion dollars (New York Times, 2013). As we can see, Starbucks rationally carried out Durkheim theory of organic solidarity and gain a competitive advantage.

In conclusion, both sociologists state that workers can start off rationally but may end up doing things irrationally. Weber recognises the change in traditional belief into something calculable need a form of administration that is bureaucracy. The answer to the spirit of capitalism is bureaucracy but Weber is also well aware of the rationality of bureaucracy turning into something irrational which is the iron cage. Weber also states that specialisation and diversification can lead to a rational connection between individuals but should not lose sight of the cohesion among individuals. Ultimately, individual must incorporate self-rationalisation, rationalisation of bureaucracy and also specialisation in order to be rational and sustainable in the pursuit of success.


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