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Theoretical Issues: Structure and Agency

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1 Theoretical Issues: Structure and Agency
Anthony Giddens Breaking down the ‘structure-agency’ divide How social systems come about

2 Anthony Giddens 1938-present
Currently director of the School of Social Sciences, LSE. Giddens' has shifted from a concern with how societies work to some of the core problems of our such as inequality, globalisation, democracy, risk, family, tradition.  Main works referenced in this lecture:  Central Problems in Social Theory, (1979) New Rules of Sociological Method (1982) The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (1984) Modernity and Self-Identity, Cambridge (1991) Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity, 1998 (with C. Pierson) The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy,1998.

3 The Third Way (1998) influenced New Labour’s alliance with 'radical centrist’ politics
‘No rights without responsibilities'. Takes a positive but not uncritical attitude towards globalisation Concerns itself both with equality and pluralism Tries to respond to changing patterns of inequality. Accepts that existing welfare systems, and the broader structure of the state, are the source of problems as well as means of resolving them Emphasises that social and economic policy are intrinsically connected Places a stress upon active welfare, coupled with labour market reform. Concerns itself with mechanisms of exclusion at the bottom and the top

4 Giddens: breaking down the structure-agency divide
Challenged 'agency-structure' dualism as an epistemological problem, i.e. he posited that the duality between agency versus structure was a false dichotomy Sought to avoid reductionism, i.e. grounding social action as a primary effect of agency or as a primary effect of structure By this means we could avoid determination Dual structuration amounted to bridging analysis which sought to break down the entrenched division in traditional sociology between structure and agency

5 Giddens on the divide (2)
Synthesised these forces as an explanatory framework for the links between human action and the evolution of social structures. There is an ongoing relationship between human agency and social structure as they are interactive and reciprocal. Hence our analytical attention ought to be on the mutuality of processes of social development and of human interaction.

6 Structure-agency in a nutshell
'Society only has form, and that form only has effects on people, in so far as structure is produced and reproduced in what people do' Conversations with Anthony Giddens (Giddens and Pierson, 1998: 77)

7 Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society
 Structure and agency are inextricably linked ‘People are intrinsically involved with society and actively enter into its constitution’ people are not 'outside of’ social structures and vice-versa

8 So how do social structures come about?
social life is more than random individual acts, but is not merely determined by social forces it's not merely a mass of 'micro'-level activity - but on the other hand, you can't study it by only looking for 'macro'-level explanations human agency and social structure are in a relationship with each other the repetition of the acts of individual agents reproduces the structure

9 Breaking down the traditional dichotomy…
Giddens’ 'structure' relates to a more holistic model that incorporates social systems and rules, social order and social reproduction So we are constantly involved in predicting and reproducing society. Structure are the products of human action 'Society only has form, and that form only has effects on people, in so far as structure is produced and reproduced in what people do' (Giddens & Pierson, 1998: 77).

10 Giddens’ views on ‘agency’:
We are not social or cultural 'dupes' or 'plastic' individuals; rather we act intentionally Modernity characterised by our being actively involved in constructing our identity and positions of agen because we are reflexive agents: In post-traditional order (modern society), self-identity becomes a reflexive project Self-identity, then, is not a set of traits or observable characteristics. It is a person's own reflexive understanding of their biography. Self-identity has continuity - that is, it cannot easily be completely changed at will - but that continuity is only a product of the person's reflexive beliefs about their own biography (Giddens 1991: 53).

11 Are we just free-floating, self-creative individuals then?
Not quite. Our social actions have effects on others and on society, beyond our intentions We are, then, always engaged in social action Gives sociologists a wider capacity to analyse the meanings of social agency beyond out intentions Secondly, it underlines Giddens' notion of the continuity of social production and reproduction (they are always ongoing, social reproduction never sleeps)

12 How about structural power?
Power (as a social structure) is also in a constant state of evolution. Authority is never held as a form of total power, but is involved in a 'dialectic of control'. Dialectic refers to the shifts that take place in the balance of power relations as a result of attempts by subordinate groups to alter power balance) This means that all social actors have arole in developing power structures Giddens' concept of power also reflects Foucault's notion of power (from whom he heavily borrowed his ideas in this regard, but lacks the empirical weight of Foucault)

13 STRUCTURE IS A DUALISM G defines 'structure' as sets of rules and resources that actors draw upon as they produce and reproduce society in their activities. Rules are “generalisable procedures, implemented in enactment or reproduction of social practices" (1984: 21).  Some are highly explicit, and formally codified (laws, prohibitions, bureaucratic, (doesn't have very much to say on signification - unlike Blumer). Others are the 'unwritten' social rules that apply to the the realm of the informal - body posture, linguistic register, linguistic tact, etc). These 'social rules' are the blueprint that enables us to get on in social situations. We often cannot consciously account for these skills or knowledges, rather they appear to be embedded.

14 Rules as sanctioning conduct: how do we acknowledge social ‘rules’ ?
Giddens uses an analogy with language - people react strongly against those who disregard its rules and conventions In a similar way, the 'rules' of social order may only be 'in our heads‘ but it is noticed when seemingly minor social expectations are not adhered to Resembles ideas from Harold Garfinkel's 1984 [first published 1967]studies on ethnography.

15 Resources Resources are frames of reference for carrying out social ‘rules’ I.e. society provides the resources that enable us to acquire a sense of social 'rules'). Allocative: control over material objects, which enable things to get done (land, raw materialism information). Authoritative resources (status, education and knowledge, authority) which establish command over other people.

16 Three modalities of structure
Or, the ways in which rules and resources are embedded Social structures enable and constrain, (rather than compel or prohibit) in three ways: Communication of meaning - individuals draw upon interpretative schemes Application of sanctions - people draw upon norms and these eventually become 'moral rules' The use of power - people draw on facilities ('resources') involving structures of (soft) domination.

17 The ‘reflexive individual’
We possess different levels of awareness which affect the way we act in the world. We switch between them in differing contexts Practical consciousness; describes to the practical skills and knowledge that we employ. Discursive consciousness refers to the ability to reflect on and comment rationally on our behaviour. It is in shifting to one mode of consciousness to another that we employ another characteristic of agency - our ability to reflect on and monitor our own behaviour. Thus we become reflexive agents.

18 Next Week Structuration Theory and Critiques of Giddens.
Presentation briefing. Finalising presentation groups. Group work.

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