Social Action System
The theory of social action Parsons can be described as an attempt to preserve the scientific rigor of positivism, while recognizing the necessity of "subjective measurement" human actions, which refers to the hermeneutic type of sociological theories. This is a cardinal moment in the theoretical and methodological constructs of Parsons, that human action should be understood in conjunction with the motivational component of the human act. In this way, social science must consider the question of results, goals and ideals in the analysis of human activity.
Reading Parsons, you can never relax. It seems that we have sorted out the subordination of systems: the system of human action is a whole, and the body, personality, social system and cultural system are its four parts. But no, "each of the other three systems of action (culture, personality, behavioral organism) forms part of the environment or, we might say, the environment of the social system". Let's graph both situations and compare the result (Figure 12.1-12.2).
Fig. 12.1. Four parts of the common system of human action
Fig. 12.2. One of the parts takes over the functions of the whole
Comparing both figures, we find, unexpectedly for ourselves, how the four equal parts, formerly part of a single whole - the system of human action, now disintegrate and organize a new structure. Sovereign parts are built in a hierarchy, where one part performs the title, and the other three - a subordinate role. Somewhere the system of human action disappeared. Its place was taken by the social system. Now it is the main one, but the other three parts are no longer parts, but elements of the environment, or the environment. The disappeared system of human action is soon revealed. It turns out that it forms a certain meta-environment, because it is located both above and below.
Parsons called his theory of action "voluntaristic". This means that the factor of free will plays an important role in the choice of strategy of behavior. He is associated with him the problem of motivation - the problem of choosing as one of the pillars of the theory of action, or ideally free internal, or external (indifferently - idealistic or materialistic) motivation. Motivation in Parsons is a cultural analogue of the concept of natural energy. In a sense, motivation focuses on improving the balance between satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the subject of the action. Cognitive motivation focuses on satisfying the need for knowledge, and the catechetical (emotional) motivation manifests itself in a positive or negative attitude towards another person or object. The mechanisms of motivation are aimed at adapting the actions of individuals to the existing social order. They mediate the relationship between man and society.
In a broader sense, the problem of choice is formulated by Parsons as the "rationality problem" human behavior. As in Weber, in rational action the individual sets himself a concrete goal, freely chooses the means to achieve the goal, shows willpower, mobilizing himself to perform the action. Social action is rational in an instrumental, pragmatic sense; is guided solely by technical considerations of pure efficiency, to which internal, moral components of action are subordinated.
In the subtitle of your article, "General conceptual outline of the action" Parsons starts up a lengthy discussion about what human action is and how it relates to other sociological categories. The action is formed by the structures and processes by which people form meaningful intentions and more or less successfully implement them in specific situations. The word "meaningful" implies that representations and references are carried out on a symbolic, cultural level. Intentions and their implementation in their totality presuppose the ability of the system of action - individual or collective - to modify their attitude to the situation or environment in the desired direction. " Human action is cultural in the sense that the meanings and intentions of actions are expressed in terms of symbolic systems connected primarily with the language.
We carefully read the words of Parsons. It turns out that their intentions, which people implement in specific situations, they form with their goals, intentions, needs or motives, and mythical structures and processes that serve as a means for people to realize their meaningful intentions. The word "sensible", proposed by Parsons, is very vague and means only one thing: it is the key by means of which the door opens to a completely different world - a world of symbolic meanings and invisible essences. Forget about the biological organism, think only of the symbolic, or cultural, level, at which only the sociological action is played out. You took a hammer and scored a nail, spending any physical effort, moving things from one part of the space to another, bruised your finger, swore, tired of the blunt event and lit up. There is nothing for the sociologist. All movements, from the point of view of true sociology, are committed not in the real, but in a symbolic space - the space of intentions, meanings, structures and meanings. In such a space, the collective and the individual are equalized. They are only versions of the system of action.
The social system is formed by the interactions of individuals. Therefore, each participant is also an actor with certain goals, ideas and attitudes, and an object of orientation for both other actors and for himself. At the same time, these individuals are also organisms, individuals and participants in cultural systems. With this interpretation, each of the other three subsystems of the common system of action (culture, personality, behavioral organism) is the environment of the social system.
The most important feature of the Parsons' theory of social action is an attempt to unite the person and his environment, both natural and social, which he, the individual, endows with his meanings and meanings. The fundamental element of such an environment is people themselves, social interaction - interaction - with which defines the individual's goals, motivations and behaviors. The values and norms governing social interaction make people's behavior orderly and predictable. Millions and billions of acts of social interaction occurring in the world every minute with all people create a network of social relations, organized (homeostasis) and integrated (equilibrium) due to the existence of a common system of values in such a way that it is able to standardize certain types of activities (roles) within itself itself and to maintain itself as such in relation to the conditions of the external environment (adaptation).
The social system, therefore, is a system of social action, only in the most abstract sense of the word. T. Parsons wrote about this: "Since the social system is created by the interaction of human individuals, each of them simultaneously and the actor ( actor ), having goals, ideas, settings, etc., and the object of orientation for other personalities and for himself. The system of interaction, therefore, is an abstract analytic aspect, isolated from the integral activity of the individuals participating in it. At the same time, these "individuals" are also organisms, individuals and participants in cultural systems ". Parsons rightly points out that his conception of society radically differs from the generally accepted perception of him as the aggregate of specific human individuals.
When Parsons moves away from rather abstract arguments about the system of action, which expands to such an extent that it includes the entire society, and tries to consider single acts of action, then a completely understandable logic of human behavior appears on the level of common sense. The logical scheme of a single act of action includes the actor (subject of the action), the goal (the idea of the future state of the event), the means (being and not owned by the actor, tangible and not material, accessible or inaccessible), the conditions of action characterizing its dependence on objective circumstances , and, finally, the values and norms set by society.
Fig. 12.3. Scheme of social action (according to T. Parsons)
If we look at Fig. 12.3, we note this feature: the upper part of the scheme - norms, values and ideas - determines the compulsory part of the action, and the lower one - the conditions of the situation - specifies the probability component of the action. In fact, the social norms formed by society oblige us to commit those, and not other actions, in such, and not in a different way. Through the system of cultural values and social norms, society conducts our behavior. On the contrary, the conditions of the situation, or the conditions of the action, are random coincidences of circumstances: the bus arrived on time and we were not late for work; the weather has deteriorated, and your journey through Switzerland has finally darkened. Force majeure circumstances, which are not insured by any company, and which are specifically stipulated by the travel agency as factors beyond its control, clearly demonstrate the nature of the situation.
This is a very heuristic and deeply sociological concept of the logic of the individual Parsons act, in which two completely different types of factors that influence the performance of social action are distinguished, namely the necessary (values and norms) and random (situation conditions).
You need to compare the doctrine of the social action of M. Weber and T. Parsons. Why does one have a typology, while another has a schema? What was Parsons moving in comparison with his teacher? Can you build a similar scheme for Weber? Write your thoughts in writing.
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