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Max Weber’s Thoughts on Poverty Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021

Many classical theorists in sociology attempted to explore and explain the social phenomenon of poverty. Weber’s theoretic perspective explains the phenomenon of poverty related to causes of social inequalities and the influence of the dominating religion on the attitude to wealth in the society. Weber has contributed to the exploration of the origins of poverty and the impact of religions on the attitude to it.

Weber’s Legacy

The ideas of Max Weber had a huge impact on the development of modern social sciences. He was a prominent German sociologist of the end of XIX and the beginning of XX centuries. He is considered one of the founders of sociology. Weber regarded the human behavior as a conscious phenomenon, which needs to be understood rather than to be described.

He emphasized the importance of exploring the human behavior in sociology through the rational understanding of the meanings of individuals’ actions. Therefore, he regarded exploration of intentions, values, beliefs, and opinions influencing the human behavior as the key aspect of sociology. The most famous works of the sociologist include “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, “Politics as a Vocation”, and others.

Weber’s Thoughts on Social Inequalities Leading to Poverty

Weber investigated the role of the class in creating social inequalities. He indicated two groups of the working class, members of which are disposed to poverty: those with marketable skills and those who do not possess these skills. Weber considered the status and party as additional determinants of social inequality.

The sociologist regarded “the politics of everyday life” as a struggle for power and influence (Raphael 99). According to the ideas of Weber, class determines the ability of person to be influential in economic sphere of life, while status determines the ability to be influential in “social-honor” sphere of life (Raphael 99). Both of these kinds of power were defined as giving more chances to possess great material resources.

Therefore, lack of power is the key reason of poverty. The status is influenced by such factors as education, race, religion, etc. It refers to social dimension or stratification (Andersen and Taylor 217). It is directly related to access to economic resources, as its sources can be used to exclude others from acquiring material values.

For example, people belonging to a major religious group can deny opportunities to people belonging to other religious groups. Another source of social inequality is party or organization where people gather to pursue certain interests. All of the factors mentioned above are the keys to differentiation of society leading to poverty or richness of its members.

Weber’s Analysis of the Relation between Economic Attitudes and Religious Goals

In his famous book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, Weber explores the relation between Protestantism and ideas of Reformation and the development of the spirit of capitalism. The author attempts to show how the idea of “calling” contributed to the shift from considering striving for material goods and personal profit, which is a main concept and basis of capitalism, “perilous to the soul” to considering it a fulfillment of one’s natural duties related to obtaining happiness in this life (Tawney 2).

Weber investigates how the religion dominating in Western countries influenced the possibility of development of ideas, which led to the creation of modern capitalism. He considers the ethic of ascetic Protestantism significant for the development of capitalism (Weber 170).

In another book “The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism”, Weber considers Hinduism in India a barrier for capitalism. According to the book, the caste system, which is the part of the worldview in Hinduism, helped to block the opportunity for a development of a rational type of capitalism in India (Swedberg 113). The specifics of the religion influenced the attitudes to economic activity as unimportant and senseless.

Weber demonstrated that economic attitudes are directly related to religious goals, which define what is worth striving for (“Towards an ethical framework for poverty reduction” 318). Western religion encouraged the development of capitalism as the wealth-seeking there was regarded as a natural duty of human related to search for the calling and embody it into life during the lifetime.

Therefore, in such system of attitudes, poverty is regarded as the absence of willing to fulfill the duties given by God and striving for material wealth is rather praised than condemned. On the contrary, Eastern or Asian religions have contributed to the absence of willing to overcome poverty as material goods of this world are regarded as senseless. The focus on the values of the immaterial world and the caste system led to the low motivation for changing economic status and seeking for wealth.

The explanation of the causes of poverty can be found in Weber’s thoughts on the nature of social inequalities. According to his works, class and status play a vital role in defining the person’s opportunity to have access to material goods. Therefore, lower class and status are the key factors leading to poverty. The religion is considered another influential factor that has an impact on the society’s attitudes to poverty and wealth.

Weber showed a direct relation between Western religion and willingness to overcome poverty and Eastern tradition and lack of motivation to struggle for better economic conditions. Weber’s ideas help to understand the causes of poverty, define the factors that influence the society’s opinions on it, and see the possible ways for solving the problem.

According to Weber’s concepts, the key to reducing poverty is related to decreasing social inequalities through lowering the differentiation between classes and statuses. Another method for overcoming poverty is stimulating the people’s motivation for gaining material goods by using the appropriate interpretation of beliefs in the dominating religion.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret, and Howard Taylor. Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society. 4th ed. 2008. Belmont, California: Thomson Learning, Inc. Print.

Raphael, Dennis. Poverty in Canada: Implications for Health and Quality of Life. 2nd ed. 2011. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc. Print.

Swedberg, Richard. The Max Weber Dictionary: Key Words and Central Concepts, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005. Print.

Tawney, Richard Henry. “Foreword.” The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Ed. Max Weber. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003. 1-13. Print.

Towards an Ethical Framework for Poverty Reduction: A Critical Reflection on Amartya Sen’s Capability Theory in the Light of Catholic Social Teaching, Delhi, India: Cambridge University Press India, 2010. Print.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2003. Print.

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