Ideal type (German: Idealtypus), also known as the pure type, is a typological term most closely associated with antipositivist sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920). For Weber, the conduct of social science depends upon the construction of hypothetical concepts in the abstract. The "ideal type" is therefore a subjective element in social theory and research; one of many subjective elements which necessarily distinguish sociology from natural science.
An ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is not meant to refer to perfect things, moral ideals nor to statistical averages but rather to stress certain elements common to most cases of the given phenomena. It is also important to pay attention that in using the word “ideal” Max Weber refers to the world of ideas (German: Gedankenbilder "thoughtful pictures") and not to perfection; these “ideal types” are idea-constructs that help put the seeming chaos of social reality in order.
Weber himself wrote: "An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those onesidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct... " It is a useful tool for comparative sociology in analyzing social or economic phenomena, having advantages over a very general, abstract idea and a specific historical example. It can be used to analyze both a general, suprahistorical phenomenon (like capitalism) or historically unique occurrences (like Weber's own Protestant Ethics analysis).
To try to understand a particular phenomenon, one must not only describe the actions of its participants but "interpret" them as well. But interpretation poses a problem for the investigator who has to attempt to classify behavior as belonging to some prior "ideal type". Weber described four categories of "Ideal Types" of behavior: zweckrational (goal-rationality), wertrational (value-rationality), affektual (emotional-rationality) and traditional (custom, unconscious habit).
Therefore Weber, who is keenly aware of “Ideal Type's” fictional nature, states that the “Ideal Type” never seeks to claim its validity in terms of a reproduction of or a correspondence with social reality. Its validity can be ascertained only in terms of adequacy, which is too conveniently ignored by the proponents of positivism. This does not mean, however, that objectivity, limited as it is, can be gained by “weighing the various evaluations against one another and making a ‘statesman-like’ compromise among them”, which is often proposed as a solution by those sharing Weber's kind of methodological perspectivism. Such a practice, which Weber calls “syncretism”, is not only impossible but also unethical, for it avoids “the practical duty to stand up for our own ideals” [Weber 1904/1949, p. 58 in ]
Critics of ideal type include proponents of the normal type theory. Some sociologists argue that ideal type tends to focus on extreme phenomena and overlook the connections between them, and that it is difficult to show how the types and their elements fit into a theory of a total social system.
- Normal type
- Social action
- Structure and agency
- Tripartite classification of authority
- The Three Types of Legitimate Rule
- Morphological analysis (problem-solving)
- Pawel Zaleski "Ideal Types in Max Weber’s Sociology of Religion: Some Theoretical Inspirations for a Study of the Religious Field", Polish Sociological Review No. 3 (171), 2010.
- "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy". pp. Max Weber (5.2: Ideal Type). Retrieved 2009-06-08.
- Science, Values and Politics in Max Weber's Methodology. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. 2007. ISBN 978-0-7546-4529-0.
- Johnson, Allan G. (2000). "Ideal Type". The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-21681-0.
- "Website of Trinity International University". pp. The Ideal Type. Retrieved 2009-06-08.[dead link]
- More resources: