Max Weber was one of the greatest and revolutionary Sociologist of all times. His contributions are widely popular in the Sociological understanding and Analysis. He is studied for better understanding of Sociological phenomenon of Class Inequality. His other contributions are “The Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism”, “Theory of Religion”, “Bureaucracy”, “Theory and typology of Social Action”, and “Typology of Authority” and “Typology of Ideal Type”.
Max Weber was against the Idealist Philosophy that Social phenomenon are unique and therefore do not allow generalization. He was of the opinion that it was possible to use Scientific categories in the field of cultural objects or human studies. He therefore developed a set of operational constructs and definitions that could be used in Sociological studies.
Ideal Type is one of the major concepts in Weberian Sociology and in methodology it is popularly known as Typological Analysis. Max Weber derived the inspiration of Ideal Types from the Writings of Plato and Immanuel Kant.
“An Ideal Type is an Analytical construct that serves the investigator as a measuring rod to ascertain similarities as well as dissimilarities in the concrete cases.”
Max Weber used them as an abstract model which could be used to see aspects of real world in a cleaner and more systematic way, when used as a standard of comparision. It is a means to find out similarities and dissimilarities in an actual phenomenon.
Characterstics of Ideal Types:
Ideal types are mental constructs and hence are subjective in nature.. Since they are mental constructs , they do not exactly represent the reality. They are essentially “One sided model”. Ideal types do not provide an exhaustive description of a social phenomenon. Ideal types are theoretical tools and its function is to compare with empirical reality in order to establish its divergences and similarities, to describe them with the most unambiguously intelligible concepts and to understand and explain them casually. They do not represent the statistical average. They signify “pure” or “abstract” types and do not indicate anything that is normatively desirable. Ideal types are not hypotheses but are the mental constructs. . Ideal types are not “Rigid” but are subject to change
There are constraints attached with the use of ideal types ,that they-
are not hypotheses: They are mental constructs used to study variations of the actual phenomenon from the extremes and thus give varying results for different cultures.
do not state or imply and ethical idea .
are not average types. They do not represent the statistical average.
do not exhaust reality. For example: Socialism and Free market Economy can be referenced as two different ideal types which may or may not represent the actual social phenomenon but the deviations from the construct could be used to understand phenomenon much better way.
Critics of Ideal Types:
Ideal types are, though significant in study of social science, their usage is somewhat limited because they can not be used in all types of social analysis. Though a mental construct, many a times they are confused to be actual reality itself. They often made a theory and the ideas or things that it represents are often taken to be the ideas and things that are very much found in the real world. There is a possibility of considering the ideal types as a procrustean bed into which data are forced in. They are seen as involving the meaningful understanding and not the development of general concepts and general theories. Concept of ideal types is very complex and only an expert sociologist can understand and make use of it efficiently. Also, they are not testable models but Weber himself implicitly used them as testable models.