sociology, max weber, positivism


Political Theory | Politics and Social Change | Quantitative, Qualitative, Comparative, and Historical Methodologies | Sociology


June 14, 2020 was the hundred-year anniversary of Max Weber's death. He died in Munich at age 56 after most likely contracting the Spanish flu. He is often considered one of the founding fathers of sociology next to Marx and Durkheim, despite Weber resisting this label. Given Weber's worldwide reception, his enduring relevance for sociology and beyond is unbroken, even though he left a huge unfinished work not intended as a conventional sociological grand theory but as a historical-comparative attempt to understand how humans interact within their social environment and how they construct a social reality of their own making.

Weber's popularity waxed and waned with the rise of positivism in the second half of the twentieth century. The current trend to critically judge hypothesis-testing as the supreme method to unlock law-like cause-and-effect social relationships now seems to be giving Weberian thought a new lifeline. The commemoration of Max Weber's death during another pandemic coincides with the publication of his Complete Edition (Max Weber Gesamtausgabe [MWG]) in 47 volumes. The MWG provides, for the first time, "a definitive historical-critical edition of the entire range of his thinking and engagements, not only a basis for a comprehensive account of his life and work but also a resource for moving beyond textual reconstruction and interpretation to new applications and possible extensions of . . . [his] ideas" (Hanke, Scaff, and Whimster 2019:3).

The anniversary and the publication of the MWG provide a good reason to reassess Weber's contribution and living legacy to sociology and the social sciences. In this short essay, I do not ask if Weber is still relevant (he is). Instead, I argue that it is his openness to interpretation, illustrated by the emergence of Weberology and Weberianism, that has made his work last for so many decades. Toward this end, I will examine the influence of his conceptual and methodological innovations and how they were absorbed, contextualized, revised, reinterpreted, and applied in the last 100 years. Then I will evaluate Weber's universal influence through translations and publications and his influence on the teaching of sociology. Next, I review the trivialization, exploitation, and abuse of Weber's prestige and authority for often contrary purposes, an outcome that is often ignored. The conclusion summarizes Weber's continuing relevance.


This work has been accepted for publication in Contemporary Sociology: a Journal of Reviews.

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