Max Weber  

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"Weber was ambivalent towards rationalisation; while admitting it was responsible for many advances, in particular, freeing humans from traditional, restrictive and illogical social guidelines, he also criticised it for dehumanising individuals as "cogs in the machine" and curtailing their freedom, trapping them in the bureaucratic iron cage of rationality and bureaucracy."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was one of the most profoundly influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Born in Germany, Weber became a lawyer, politician, scholar, political economist, and sociologist. He was an indefatigable and eclectic writer who founded or co-founded a number of now separate academic disciplines, including the modern study of sociology, public administration and organizational theory. He was also a polyglot who in his lifetime mastered nineteen foreign languages and became a major scholar of religion as well, writing on the ancient religions of Judaism, India and China. He began his career at the University of Berlin, and later worked at the universities of Freiburg, Heidelberg, and Munich.

Weber's major works deal with rationalization in sociology of religion, government, organizational theory, and behavior. His most famous work is his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which began his work in the sociology of religion. In this work, Weber argued that religion was one of the non-exclusive reasons for the different ways the cultures of the Occident and the Orient have developed, and stressed that particular characteristics of ascetic Protestantism influenced the development of capitalism, bureaucracy and the rational-legal state in the West. Some have used Weber's work on The Protestant Ethic as an argument that human institutions were not shaped by inevitable materialism, as Marx had argued, but by religious ideals and ideas which could not be reduced to material causation. In another major work, Politics as a Vocation, Weber defined the state as an entity which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, a definition that became pivotal to the study of modern Western political science. His analysis of bureaucracy in his Economy and Society is still central to the modern study of organizations. His most known contributions are often referred to as the 'Weber Thesis'. He was the first to recognize several diverse aspects of social authority, including charismatic, traditional, and legitimate forms of authority. His work on bureaucracies, which was descriptive, not prescriptive, as it has been taken by his western mediators, such as Harvard's Talcott Parsons (translator of Economy and Society, 1947), noted that these institutions were based on legitimate--or legal--authority. Thus bureaucracies mitigated the effects of "personalism" in organizations.

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