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Integrated Approaches
These recognise the importance of both the limitations of social structures and the
possibilities for choice.
Weberian Theory
Weber doesn’t fit into either structuralist theories or social action theories. He emphasised the
concept of verstehen so sociologists could understand the meanings behind people’s actions.
However, he also recognised people did not have a completely free choice in how they
This was illustrated in his study of the emergence of capitalism in Western Europe. In this he
identified the significance of the religious ideas (the Protestant ethic in the Calvinist religion)
that people held in generating changes in the social structure. He saw these ideas as a major
reason why capitalism developed first in Western Europe. He therefore combined social action
and structuralist theories as he studied the meaning of Protestantism to Protestants as well
as the influence of social structures such as the development of the economy.
This refers to the process by which people are limited by social institutions but at the same
time can shape and change them. This change occurs through reflexivity, where people are
constantly reflecting on the things they do and how they do them as they live their daily lives.
Giddens argued structures only exist because of people’s action and people can only act
because the structures enable action to take place. He referred to the link between structure
and action as the duality of structure.
Giddens’ theory suggests the social structure, including institutions, values etc, provides
people with a framework of rules and doing things. At the same time, people can change this
structure by ignoring, modifying or replacing rules.
A good example of this is the legal system. This is part of the social structure and limits the
ways people can behave. However, the law can only continue as long as people continue to
conform to it. If people decide some laws are outdated they may choose to break them. If
this becomes widespread the law would either have to be enforced against people’s wishes or
the law would have to be changed.
These theories may over exaggerate the extent to which individuals can change society’s
Action theorists regard them as overestimating the limits of the social structure on people’s