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social action

Definition of 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 of Social Action

  • Covering your mouth when you cough in public (as to not be rude).
  • Dressing in a suit for a job interview (to impress and meet the expectation of the situation).

Social Action Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: so·cial ac·tion

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈsoʊʃəl ˈækʃən/
  • British English – /ˈsəʊʃəl ˈækʃ(ə)n/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: social actions
  • An action differs from behavior in that social action requires intention. Behavior in the simplest terms is everything an individual does, a social action is a behavior based on intentional reaction to their surroundings and expectations based on attitudes, beliefs, norms, and values.
  • Reductively, 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 (1864–1920) 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 as following the teachings of a religion to achieve salvation.
  • Also called:
    • action
    • meaningful action
    • meaningful social action

Related Quotation

  • “In ‘action’ is included all human behaviour when and in so far as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it. Action in this sense may be either overt or purely inward or subjective; it may consist of positive intervention in a situation, or of deliberately refraining from such intervention or passively acquiescing in the situation. Action is social in so far as, by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting individual (or individuals) it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course” (Weber [1922] 1947:88).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Works Consulted

Bilton, Tony, Kevin Bonnett, Pip Jones, David Skinner, Michelle Stanworth, and Andrew Webster. 1996. Introductory Sociology. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan.

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

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

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

Taylor & Francis. (N.d.) Routledge Handbooks Online. (https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/).

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. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Wiley. (N.d.) Wiley Online Library. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/).

Cite the Definition of Social Action

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social action.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved December 9, 2019 (https://sociologydictionary.org/social-action/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

social action. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/social-action/

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

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “social action.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed December 9, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/social-action/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“social action.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/social-action/>.