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Rationalization of Society: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Rationalization of Society
  • 1:17 Types of Rationality
  • 2:53 Examples of the…
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Rationalization of society is a concept first explored by Max Weber. Learn more about the rationalization of society and see some examples, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Rationalization of Society

The rationalization of society is a concept that was created by Max Weber. Rationalization refers to the process by which modern society has increasingly become concerned with:

  • Efficiency: achieving the maximum results with a minimum amount of effort
  • Predictability: a desire to predict what will happen in the future
  • Calculability: a concern with numerical data, i.e., statistics and scoring
  • Dehumanization: employing technology as a means to control human behavior

Rationalization is a product of scientific study and technological advances in the Western world. By reducing tradition's hold on society, rationalization led to new practices. Instead of human behavior being motivated by customs and traditions, rationalization led to behaviors that were guided by reason and practicality. Rationalization not only transformed modern society, it played an important role in the development of capitalism. Though rationalization was first apparent in the creation of bureaucracies, it has spread to all aspects of society.

Types of Rationality

According to Weber, there are four types of rationality:

  • Practical rationality involves systematically deciding the best way to achieve a desired end based on what is practical.
  • Theoretical rationality involves understanding the world through abstract concepts.
  • Substantive rationality involves deciding the best choice of a means to an end as guided by all of your collective values. In other words, you are attempting to make your system of values and your actions congruent with each other.
  • Formal rationality involves making choices based on universal rules, regulations, and the larger social structure of your society. It involves calculating or quantifying the most efficient means to an end.

Formal rationality forces order on modern society through rigid, quantifiable terms by means of decisions that are based on rules and regulations that are universal. Formal rationality has contributed to the rise of bureaucracy, which is able to closely direct and manipulate behavior.

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