Sociology Index

AGENCY

Agency is linked to sociologies which focus on the individual as a subject and view social action as something purposively shaped by individuals within a context to which they have given meaning.

This view is usually contrasted with those sociologies which focus on social structure and imply the individual is shaped and constrained by the structural environment in which they are located. Structure or agency viewpoints may be traced back to sociologists such as Georg Simmel, Norbert Elias and Talcott Parsons.

Agency Theory
In an agency relationship, one party acts on behalf of another. It is curious that a concept that could not be more profoundly sociological does not have a niche in the sociological literature. This essay begins with the economics paradigm of agency theory, which casts a very long shadow over the social sciences, and then traces how these ideas diffuse to and are transformed (if at all) in the scholarship produced in business schools, political science, law, and sociology.

I cut a swathe through the social fabric where agency relationships are especially prevalent and examine some of the institutions, roles, forms of social organization, deviance, and strategies of social control that deliver agency and respond to its vulnerabilities, and I consider their impact. Finally, I suggest how sociology might make better use of and contribute to agency theory.  - Susan P. Shapiro American Bar Foundation, Chicago

Structure, Agency and the Sociology of Education: Rescuing Analytical Dualism 
Robert Willmott - British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 5-21
Abstract: Theorising the interplay of structure and agency is the quintessential focus of sociological endeavour. This paper aims to be part of that continuing endeavour, arguing for a stratified social ontology, where structure and agency are held to be irreducible to each other and causally efficacious, yet necessarily interdependent. It thus aims not to be part of that on-going journey in search of the 'ontological holy grail'. Instead, it offers a way of linking structure and agency which enables the practical education researcher concretely to examine their relative interplay over time. The methodological key to teasing out their relative interplay is held to be analytical dualism. It will be argued that such a methodological device is precluded by Giddens' structuration theory.

Princeton University - Sociology 599: Agency and Structure in the Marxist, Durkheimian and Weberian Theoretical Traditions - Professor Nicos Mouzelis
The aim of this course is to explore some general trends in modern sociological theory by focusing on the way in which agency-structure linkages are conceptualized in three major traditions: the Marxist, Durkheimian and Weberian one.
In dealing with specific theorists, the objective is neither to give a fully comprehensive account of all their work, nor to examine in detail their precise methodological pronouncements on the issue under consideration. Rather, the emphasis will be on the type of agency-structure linkages that one can derive when an author's empirical exploration of the social world is viewed as a whole.

Books: Cyberspace Divide: Equality, Agency and Policy in the Information Society
by Brian D. Loader (Editor)

Book Review: Gender and Agency: Reconfiguring the Subject in Feminist and Social Theory. - Lois McNay
In Gender and Agency Lois McNay works to understand both the potential for female agency and the production of female subjectivity as something other than a negative relationship to the symbolic category of “lack”. She argues, fundamentally, that the combination of a monolithic concept of lack as a universal perception and a general neglect of the temporality of subjectivity result in theories of subjectification which are unable to escape the repressive hypothesis, and cannot account for change. McNay’s work will certainly be welcome to those who have been frustrated especially with the feminist understanding of female subjectivity via Lacanian and Foucaultian theories of negative production. The book manages to pack a tremendous amount of information into 168 pages, and as a result her work on Castoriadis does not really live up to the promises she makes in her introduction. The book is nonetheless a useful contribution to theories of social agency.l

Sewell, William H., A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency and Transformation. AJS, 1992. 98: p. 1-29.

Emirbayer, Mustafa and Jeff Goodwin, Notes on Network Analysis, Culture and the Problem of Agency. ASR. 1994.