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In sociology, social action refer to any action that takes into account actions and reactions of other individuals and is modified based on those events.

The term "social action" was introduced by Max Weber. It is a more encompassing term than Florian Znaniecki's social phenomena, since the individual performing social actions is not passive, but (potentially) active and reacting.

Weber differentiated between several types of social actions:

  • rational actions (also known as value-rational ones, wertrational): actions which are taken because it leads to a valued goal, but with no thought of its consequences and often without consideration of the appropriateness of the means chosen to achieve it ('the end sanctifies the means');
  • instrumental action (also known as goal-instrumental ones, zweckrational): actions which are planned and taken after evaluating the goal in relation to other goals, and after thorough consideration of various means (and consequences) to achieve it. An example would be most economic transactions;
  • affectional action (also known as emotional actions): actions which are taken due to one's emotions, to express personal feelings. For examples, cheering after a victory, crying at a funeral would be emotional actions.
  • traditional actions: actions which are carried out due to tradition, because they are always carried out in such a situation. An example would be putting on clothes or relaxing on Sundays. Some traditional actions can become a cultural artifact;

In sociological hierarchy, social action is more advanced than behavior, action and social behavior, and is in turn followed by more advanced social contact, social interaction and social relation.

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