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.
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),
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
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.
McNays 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.