Sociology 319

January 20, 2000

Discussion Questions on Action and Praxis – Chapter 4 of Blackwell Companion


  1. Why have some sociologists been so critical of utilitarian approaches to human action? See pages 111 and 117 (and also p. 33).
  2. "It would be difficult to overstate Weber’s accent on meaning" (p. 113). What does Weber mean by "meaning" and what are the boundaries of social action for Weber? That is, provide some examples or explain what is meaningful human action and what is not
  3. Cohen argues that Weber was an action theorist whose orientation to action was that of subjective consciousness. Go through the handout from Economy and Society and show how Weber’s discussion of social action focussed on subjective consciousness.
  4. On p. 122, Cohen refers to the motif of Dewey and Mead as "interaction, accommodation, or adjustment." Later he notes that these are always "reciprocal processes." Provide some examples of social action and interaction that demonstrate this, and show how they demonstrate it. Also explain whether these social action are conscious or not so conscious.
  5. "Humans are creatures of habit." How might Dewey’s discussion of habit (pp. 123-125) relate to this folk wisdom?
  6. Pages 126-7 deal with some of the weaknesses of the approaches of Dewey and Mead. Provide examples of social action and interaction that demonstrate some of these weaknesses.
  7. In Cities of the Plain, a 1998 novel by Cormac McCarthy, one of the characters comments "Nor I. I only know that every act which has no heart will be found out in the end. Every gesture." (p. 196). How might Mead have dealt with this statement, and how might you relate this statement to the symbolic interaction approach?
  8. Using the concepts discussed in class and in the text, comment on another statement by the same character, from p. 195 of Cities of the Plain.

Men speak of blind destiny, a thing without scheme or purpose. But what sort of destiny is that? Each act in this world from which there can be no turning back has before it another, and it another yet. In a vast and endless net. Men imagine that the choices before them are theirs to make. But we are free to act only upon what is given. Choice is lost in the maze of generations and each act in that maze is an enslavement for it voids every alternative and binds one every more tightly into the constraints that make a life.


 Return to Sociology 319.