Rationalisation, disenchantment and re-enchantment : Engaging with Weber’s sociology of modernity
Max Weber is seen as one of the founders of sociology, making up a triumvirate of ‘founding fathers’ with Marx and Durkheim. However, this does not capture the scope and ambition, nor the emotional engagement of Weber’s scholarly work. What drove him was a demand to address the ‘cultural crisis’ that was represented by the creation of the modern world (Kettler et al., 2008). Undertaking his research and writing from the late nineteenth century to his relatively early death in 1920, Weber saw at first hand in detailed empirical studies the replacement of traditional agricultural society in Germany by ‘a new “employment regime” based on capitalistic wage labour’ (Whimster, 2007: 16). The intensity with which he approached his studies led to a number of breakdowns in his health. A large part of that intensity arose from an unclouded recognition of what was being lost with the expansion of modernity, namely a sense of meaning that was embedded in the everyday relationships and activities of human life. This was, however, not a recognition of loss characterised by soft nostalgia. In his immensely varied and historically focused breadth of studies – from Chinese society to the development of capitalism in the West – Weber understood the pervasiveness of issues such as power, and identified how they were differently manifested in different kinds of social order.