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The concept of rationalization occupies a central place in the works of Max Weber. In the German sociologist’s writings, it is associated with a family of words built on a shared root: “ratio,” or reason. The index of Weber’s complete works (Baier et al. 1984–2020) lists six principal members of this family (rationality, irrationality, rational, rationalism, rationalization, and irrationalization), each of which come with numerous qualifications. The term “rationalization” accounts for fully a third of the occurrences of the words in this special set. A quick exploration of the corpus of keywords also reveals that Weber’s use of the concept varied enormously over time. Completely absent from his first works, it made a timid appearance in his writings on the methodology of the social sciences. Its use then intensified, initially in works on music, law, and the economic ethics of major religions. Its trajectory is also connected to the subject that became, according to Marianne Weber (1984 [1926]), her husband’s primary focus from the 1910s: the uniqueness of Western civilization when seen from the perspective of rationalization.
To aid in this investigation, Weber associated rationalization particularly, although not exclusively, with a model of historical development characterized by the precedence of rational action over means, where rational action itself is shaped by increasingly formalized and abstract norms and regulations. Three clarifications are immediately necessary to preempt various tenacious clichés associated with this subject…

Philippe Bezes
Philippe BEZES is research director at the CNRS, based at the Centre d’études européennes et de politique comparée at Sciences Po (CEE, UMR 8239) (Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics), and a teacher at Sciences Po. His research interests include the historical sociology of administrative reform policies and of the state, and the transformation of public bureaucracies in France and elsewhere. Since 2016, he has been working on a project to map and analyze organizational transformations in ministries in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. He is the author of Réinventer l’État. Les réformes de l’administration française (1962–2008) (Paris: Puf, 2009) and he has recently published “Le nouveau phénomène bureaucratique. Le gouvernement par la performance entre bureaucratisation, marché et politique,” in Revue française de science politique (70, no. 1 [2020]: 21–47). He is the joint editor, with Florence Descamps and Sébastien Kott, of Le Moment RCB ou le rêve d’un gouvernement rationnel (1962–1978) (Paris: Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2021).
Sebastian Billows
Sebastian BILLOWS is a sociologist, research fellow at the Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement (INRAE) (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment), and member of the Institut interdisciplinaire de recherche en sciences sociales (IRISSO) (Interdisciplinary Research Institute of Social Sciences, UMR INRAE-CNRS-Paris Dauphine University). His research focuses on the creation, interpretation, and reappropriation of different areas of economic law: competition law as applied to all large companies, the regulation of relations between large retailers and their suppliers, and more recently the organization of agri-food chains. He has recently published articles in Sociologie du travail, the Revue française de socio-économie, and the Journal of Common Market Studies.
Patrice Duran
Patrice DURAN is emeritus professor at the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay and researcher at the Institut des sciences sociales du politique (ISP-CNRS, UMR 7220) (Institute for Social Sciences of Politics). He is currently president of the Conseil national de l’information statistique (CNIS) (National Council for Statistical Information). His teaching and research focuses particularly on sociological theory, political sociology, the sociology of public action. and the analysis of public policy, the sociology of organizations, and the sociology of law.
Michel Lallement
Michel LALLEMENT is professor, chair of the Sociological Analysis of Work, Employment, and Organizations at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (National Conservatory of Arts and Trades, Paris), and Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study) (2020–2021). He is a member of the Laboratoire interdisciplinaire pour la sociologie économique (Lise, UMR 3320 CNRS-Cnam) (Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Economic Sociology). His research deals with work, professional relationships, communitarian utopias, and the history of sociology. His publications include L’Âge du Faire. Hacking, travail, anarchie (Paris: Le Seuil, 2015), Logique de classe. Edmond Goblot, la bourgeoisie et la distinction sociale (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015), Makers. Enquête sur les laboratoires du changement social (with Isabelle Berrebi-Hoffmann and Marie-Christine Bureau, Paris: Le Seuil, 2018), and Un désir d’égalité. Vivre et travailler dans des communautés utopiques (Paris: Le Seuil, 2019).
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