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rationalization,in psychology: see defense mechanismdefense mechanism,
in psychoanalysis, any of a variety of unconscious personality reactions which the ego uses to protect the conscious mind from threatening feelings and perceptions.
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- the general tendency within modern capitalist societies for all institutions and most areas of life to be transformed by the application of RATIONALITY. As seen by WEBER, for example, such a process of rationalization is the master process which underlies the transformation of the economic, political and legal institutions of western societies (notably in the spread of BUREAUCRACY and of systematic forms of accountancy and law). Furthermore, the effects of this process are also evident in other sectors of society, e.g. the bureaucratization of science and learning, and developments in music and in religious organization.
Weber had major reservations about the implications of the operation of so seemingly inexorable a process, which he sometimes referred to as creating an ‘iron cage’ that would increasingly restrict individuality. He recognized that a narrow calculation of ‘instrumental rationality’ was likely to conflict with 'substantive rationality’ i.e. the rationality of outcomes appraised in terms of wider human objectives. At the same time, however, in a world ‘disenchanted’ by rationality, he did not believe that a 'strictly scientific’basis existed for a generalized conception of human interests or human needs. Human beings possess freedom of action, and must therefore ultimately make their own choices (see also VALUE FREEDOM AND VALUE NEUTRALITY).
Other theorists have taken a more optimistic view of the outcome of the rationalization process. HABERMAS, for example, has suggested that ‘human interests’ will be identifiable in a context in which a truly democratic critical discourse exists (see also CRITICAL CULTURAL DISCOURSE). In general, however, sociologists have remained more agnostic on such issues (see also FORMAL AND SUBSTANTIVE RATIONALITY).
- any after-the-act justification of an action which seeks to present this action in a favourable light, as having a coherent rationale, in circumstances where such a ‘rational’ reconstruction lacks plausibility (compare DEFENCE MECHANISMS).