social action

(noun) A behavior by an individual during an interaction to which the individual attaches meaning based on others interpretations or responses to the act.

Example: Covering you mouth when you cough in public (as to not be rude) or dressing in a suit for a job interview (to impress and meet the expectation of the situation).

Audio Pronunciation: (so·cial ac·tion)

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Usage Notes:

  • Plural: social actions
  • An action differs from behavior in that social action requires intention. Behavior in the simplest terms is everything a person does,  a social action is a behavior based on intentional reaction to their surroundings and expectations based on attitudes, beliefs, norms, and values.
  • Behavior is what you do when no one is looking and a social action is what you do when you have an audience.
  • The study of social actions is action theory.
  • Max Weber developed a typology of four ideal types of social action:
    • affectual action (also called affectional action, affective action, or emotional action) – An action determined by emotion such as crying at a movie or clapping to show approval and appreciation.
    • zweckrational (roughly translated from German as “technocratic thinking,” also called goal-instrumental action, goal-oriented action, or instrumental action) – An action determined by the most rational and pragmatic solution to a problem such as the proper bridge to build over a river based on available materials and the environment or an investment banker choosing which stock to buy.
    • traditional action – An action determined by custom or habit such as celebrating a holiday or combing your hair.
    • wertrational  (also called value-rational action, value rationality, or value-oriented action) – An action determined by a moral imperative but pursued through rational means such the following the teachings of a religion to achieve salvation.
  • Also called:
    • action
    • meaningful action
    • meaningful social action

Additional Information:

Related Terms: 

Works Consulted

Ferrante, Joan. 2011. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.

Macmillan. (N.d.) Macmillan Dictionary. (

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Taylor & Francis. (N.d.) Routledge Handbooks Online. (

Tischler, Henry L. 2011. Introduction to Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (

Wiley. (N.d.) Wiley Online Library. (

How to Cite the Definition of Social Action

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social action.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 27, 2019 (

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

social action. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social action.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 27, 2019.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“social action.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 27 Jun. 2019. <>.