social action

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social action


Social Action


the form or method of resolving social problems and contradictions that are based on conflicts of interest and need among the fundamental social forces in a given society (see K. Marx in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 27, p. 410). Social action is engendered by social movements that are guided by more or less detailed programs and by specific ideologies. Well-developed social movements establish such organizations as political parties, associations, and political alliances.

Types of social action vary according to whether the problems to be resolved are economic, social, or political or are related to the cultural life of society. The type of social action also depends on the social and class nature of the problems: which group’s interests and needs have engendered a given problem and in whose interests the problem is being resolved. A third variable is the method by which the problems are solved, be it through reform or revolution.

A basic problem of social action in Marxist-Leninist sociology is the relationship between the spontaneous and conscious components of social action. Another basic problem is the relationship between the aims and results of the activity of social forces, a relationship that establishes the profundity of a change or upheaval and the historical meaning of the social action.

The social actions of individuals—those acts which have social significance—are studied within the framework of individual psychology. Problems under study include the motivation for particular acts or intentions, the attitude toward the self as the source and agent of an action, and the relationships between the intention and significance of an action and between the rational and irrational and the conscious and unconscious in the action’s motivation. The social actions of individuals are also studied from the point of view of social psychology. This type of investigation examines how a person’s social action is perceived by the surrounding milieu, the role this perception plays in the motivation of the action, the individual’s awareness of membership in a particular group as a motivating factor in social action, the role of the reference group in social action, and the mechanisms of group control over the social actions of individuals. Problems studied from the point of view of ethics include the moral evaluation and self-evaluation of an action, the choice of a given social action, and a person’s responsibility for his choice in terms of society, his own social group, and his own self.

A number of bourgeois sociologists such as M. Weber, F. Znaniecki, and T. Parsons, regard social action as a central concept in sociological theory, viewing social action as the point of departure for the entire system of social relations and as a means for integrating diverse fields of social knowledge. Parsons in particular calls his sociological theory the theory of social action. The above sociologists are concerned mainly with dividing social action into such components as the actor, the situation of the action, and the orientation of the actor. The main indication of the social nature of an action is seen not as the action’s objective consequences but as the existence of a subjective significance in the action within the mind of the person performing it. The main types of orientation on the part of the actor are those of motivation and value. Each in turn has cognitive, emotional, and evaluative aspects. Such a detailed development of the psychological aspects of social action neglects other important aspects and leads ultimately to the psychologization of sociology and of the entire system of social science.


Marx, K. “[Pis’mo] P. V. Annenkovu ot 28 dekabria 1846 g.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 27.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. Sviatoe semeistvo. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. Chto takoe “druz’ia naroda” i kak oni voiuiutprotiv sotsial-demokratov. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad VTsIK i SNK o vneshnei i vnutrennei politike 22 dekabria [VIII Vserossiiskii s”ezd Sovetov 22-29 dekabria 1920 g.].” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 42.
Zdravomyslov, A. G. Problema interesa v sotsiologicheskoi teorii. Leningrad, 1964.
Kon, I. S. Pozitivizm v sotsiologii. Leningrad, 1964.
Andreeva, G. M. Burzhuaznaia sotsiologiia v poiskakh teorii. Moscow, 1966.
Novikov, N. V. Kritika sovremennoi burzhuaznoi nauki o sotsial’nom povedenii. Moscow, 1966.
Weber, M. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Tubingen, 1956.
Parsons, T. The Structure of Social Action, vols. 1-2. New York, 1968.


References in periodicals archive ?
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