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 ), 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…
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