Action Frame of Reference

The American sociologist Talcott Parsons created the action frame of reference in his book "The Structure of Social Action" as a tool for analyzing and evaluating social action.
Action Frame of Reference Sociology Definition


The American sociologist Talcott Parsons created the action frame of reference in his bookThe Structure of Social Action” as a tool for analyzing and evaluating social action. Afterward, the systems theory has its roots in this reference framework. Parsons’ idea that every science has an analytical, conceptual framework with which it studies its topic served as the foundation for creating this analytical frame of reference. Parson wanted to provide a similar consistent conceptual framework for sociology.


Talcott Parsons developed a sophisticated theory that starts with a methodical examination of action in which individuals make decisions between conflicting objectives and methods under social and physical constraints. Norms and values constitute the primary social constraints. 

Parsons develops a complicated social system model from these underlying ideas, critics claim, in which the deciding individual progressively vanishes and the social system, with its norms and values, takes over as the main influence on behavior.

The frame of reference concerns how one or more players in the basic individual instance of biological organisms “orient” themselves to a situation involving other actors. The scheme is relational; that is, it is related to the units of action and interaction.

It examines the organization and workings of the systems created by these units’ interactions with other units and their environments. The units’ internal organization is not a problem unless it directly affects the relationship system.

According to Parsons, creating an abstract frame of reference is the first step in developing any scientific hypothesis. A group of interdependent people who are social actors serves as the empirical foundation for the frame of reference in the scientific study of social action.

Social actors have certain objectives they want to accomplish, and to do so, they must use the possibilities and tools offered within a specific set of circumstances. Parsons wanted to develop an action frame of reference for social action research that could account for the individual and situational variables prompting individuals to behave in the manner they do. He knew that none of these aspects could be reduced to the others.

According to Parsons, the four component pieces or subsystems in the action frame of reference are the culture, society, personality, and behavior that provide context for circumstances.

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