Reflections on Formative Influence
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Tuesdays, 7:20 to 9:00
541 Dodge Hall
Teachers College • Columbia University
Economy and Society
- Kalberg, Stephen. "Max Weber." The Blackwell Companion to Major Classical Social Theorists. George Ritzer, ed. (Blackwell Publishing, 2003). Blackwell Reference Online.
- Max Weber. "Basic Sociological Terms" in Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretative Sociology, Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, eds. (Berkeley: Univeristy of California Press, 1968), Vol. 1, pp. 3-62. Electronic Reserve
- In reading Weber's discussion of basic sociological terms, let us concentrate on grasping what he means in his description of sociology as "a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences" (p. 4). What might Weber have understood by science, interpretive understanding, social action, and causal explanation? Is his concern with these and other basic concepts what you would expect or is it a bit surprising to you?
- Economy and Society is a huge work, posthumous (although largely in a form that Weber gave it). Peruse the "Summary contents" to get a sense of what the whole covers (note that Chapter VI, Religious groups, Chapter VIII, Economy and law, and Chapter XVI, the City, are book-length components). Next I'd page through the whole chapter on basic concepts, to get a sense of its content and structure. Then I would read section 1a and 1b carefully, the first 20 pages or so. The main definitions in the subsequent sections (in regular type) are quite compact, elucidated by numbered remarks (in smaller type). I'd read the definitions and skim (not skip) the remarks in an effort to get a sense of what Weber was trying to grasp through his Begriffsbildung (concept formation), of which all this gives the distilled results. You might wonder which of his concepts were most important for Weber and you might also reflect on whether they still have significant importance for 21st-century inquiry.
- In 1919, Weber delivered two great lectures on "The Vocation of Politics" and "The Vocation of Science." Together, they confront one with a bracing meditation of the formative discipline of life.
- Weber used a variety of forms to advance his work — the feuilleton, ex post facto lecture texts, monographs, reports, communications and papers to academic societies, and the like. Even The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a compilation, in several variants, of monographic explorations. Hence, we tend to engage his work through the filter of anthologies, which collect and select. Here are five of them that have significant value — choosing the best of them will largely turn on the chooser's interests, with uncertainties modulated by the recognition that it is a rare reader who will do full justice to all that a robust anthology contains.
- H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946) New Edition, (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009). These selections have stood as a very solid, useful presentation of Weber's thought.
- W. G. Runciman, ed. Max Weber: Selections in Translation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978). Runciman's uses topics of importance in social thought, circa 1980, to structure the selections, which are nevertheless reasonably comprehensive relative to Weber's corpus of work.
- Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs, eds. Weber: Political Writings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Lassman and Speirs present Weber's political thought in its fullness and complexity.
- Sam Whimster, ed. The Essential Weber: A Reader (New York: Routledge, 2004). Whimster's selections cover an unusually wide range of current topics in social thought about which Weber had much to say by selecting only the most relevant material. "The essential Weber" is not necessarily what Weber may have thought was most essential, but what Whimster finds in Weber's work to be most essential for social thought at the turn of the twenty-first century.
- Stephen Kalberg, ed. Max Weber: Readings and Commentary on Modernity (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). Kalberg construes the problem of modernity very broadly and organizes numerous, relatively brief selections from Weber's work, along with a few brief commentaries on it, in the resulting conceptual framework.
- Weber's life and work has provoked a vast secondary literature, much of it very good. It now includes two excellent, substantial biographies, and Weber's life repays study and reflection because it shows a range of forces, significant in his time, emblematic for ours, powerfully converging and interacting.
- Weber, Marianne. Max Weber: A Biography. Harry Zohn, trans. (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988). Marianne Weber was a significant public intellectual in her own right and her biography of her husband adds to the substance of his achievements and to the luster of hers. It is an extraordinary effort by someone deeply, intimately involved with another over many years to grasp a full understanding of his struggles and accomplishments.
- Radkau, Joachim. Max Weber: A Biography. Patrick Camiller, trans. (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009). Joachim Radkau, a historian and social thinker whose range and depth of interests may best be described as Weberian, has written a biography that effectively competes with and complements that by Marianne Weber. Radkau has a thorough mastery of the sources, from the obvious to the remote, and he interprets them with a lively intelligence, turning Weber into a formative exemplar of an examined life.