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From the same journal

Do Today's Sociologists Really Appreciate Weber's Protestant Ethic Essay?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • C. Campbell


Publication details

JournalThe Sociological Review
DatePublished - 3 May 2006
Issue number2
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)207-223
Original languageEnglish


It is noted that Max Weber is held in very high regard by the majority of contemporary sociologists, while his essay, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is generally considered his most important as well as his most famous work. However attention is drawn to the marked contradiction between the practice of today's sociologists in routinely heaping praise on this essay and the fact that their own self-confessed theoretical statements constitute a direct rejection of Weber's approach. This contradiction is illustrated by demonstrating that although The Protestant Ethic is essentially an examination of the role of motives in human action the concept of motive is effectively missing from contemporary sociology. A possible explanation for this apparent contradiction is then considered in the form of the claim that those theoretical positions favoured by contemporary sociologists could be considered as 'developed out of' or 'descended from' Weber's theory of 'motivational understanding'. This however is shown to be an untenable claim, given that the vocabulary of motives perspective, the treatment of motives as reasons, and rational choice theory all represent straightforward rejections of Weber's position. Consequently it is concluded that there remains an unresolved and largely unrecognised contradiction between the iconic status accorded to Weber's essay by contemporary sociologists and their own very obvious rejection of his theoretical approach.

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