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In the
social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biol ...

social science
s there is a standing debate over the primacy of structure or agency in shaping human behaviour. ''
Structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A ...
'' is the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available. ''
Agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior". Institutions can refer to mechanisms which govern the behavior Behavior (Am ...
'' is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. The structure versus agency debate may be understood as an issue of
socialization In sociology, socialization is the process of Internalisation (sociology), internalizing the Norm (social), norms and Ideology, ideologies of society. Socialization encompasses both learning and teaching and is thus "the means by which social an ...
against
autonomy The federal subject The federal subjects of Russia, also referred to as the subjects of the Russian Federation (russian: субъекты Российской Федерации, subyekty Rossiyskoy Federatsii) or simply as the subjects o ...

autonomy
in determining whether an individual acts as a free agent or in a manner dictated by
social structure In the social sciences, social structure is the patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergence, emergent from and determinant of the Structure and agency, actions of individuals. Likewise, society is believed to be grouped into ...
.


Structure, socialization and autonomy

The debate over the primacy of
structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A ...
or of
agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior". Institutions can refer to mechanisms which govern the behavior Behavior (Am ...
relates to an issue at the heart of both classical and contemporary sociological theory: the question of
social ontology In the social sciences there is a standing debate over the primacy of structure or agency in shaping human behaviour. '' Structure'' is the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available. '' Agenc ...
: "What is the social world made of?" "What is a cause of the social world, and what is an effect?" "Do social structures determine an individual's behaviour or does human agency?" Structural functionalists such as
Émile Durkheim David Émile Durkheim ( or ; 15 April 1858 – 15 November 1917) was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (; ; 21 April 186414 June 1920) was a Ge ...

Émile Durkheim
see structure and hierarchy as essential in establishing the very existence of society. Theorists such as
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wis ...

Karl Marx
, by contrast, emphasize that the social structure can act to the detriment of the majority of individuals in a society. In both these instances "structure" may refer to something both
material Material is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * Matter, anything that has mass and t ...
(or "
economic An economy (; ) is an area of the production Production may be: Economics and business * Production (economics) * Production, the act of manufacturing goods * Production, in the outline of industrial organization, the act of making products ( ...

economic
") and
cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior Social behavior is behavior among two or more organisms within the same species, and encompasses any behavior in which one member affects the other. This is due to an int ...

cultural
(i.e. related to
norms Norm, the Norm or NORM may refer to: In academic disciplines * Norm (geology), an estimate of the idealised mineral content of a rock * Norm (philosophy), a standard in normative ethics that is prescriptive rather than a descriptive or explanato ...
,
customs Vienna Convention road sign for customs Customs is an authority In the fields of sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds every ...
,
tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the case, or that some proposition about the world is truth, true. In epistemology, philosophers use the term "belief" to refer to attitudes about the wo ...

tradition
s and
ideologies An ideology () is a set of belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psychology) In psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of co ...
). Some theorists put forward that what we know as our social existence is largely determined by the overall structure of society. The perceived agency of individuals can also mostly be explained by the operation of this structure. Theoretical systems aligned with this view include: *
structuralism In sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that surrounds everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of Empirical method, emp ...
* some forms of functionalism *
Marxism Marxism is a method of socioeconomic Socioeconomics (also known as social economics) is the social science that studies how economic activity affects and is shaped by social processes. In general it analyzes how modern society, societies socia ...
All of these schools in this context can be seen as forms of
holism Holism (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as ...
 – the notion that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts". On the other hand, other theorists stress the capacity of individual "agents" to construct and reconstruct their worlds. In this sense the individual can be viewed as more influential than the system. Theoretical systems aligned with this view include: *
methodological individualism In the social sciences, methodological individualism is the principle that subjective individual motivation explains social phenomena, rather than class or group dynamics which are (according to proponents of individualistic principles) illusory ...
* social phenomenology *
interactionism In micro-sociology, interactionism is a theoretical perspective that sees social behavior Social behavior is behavior Behavior (American English) or behaviour (British English; American and British English spelling differences#-our, -or, ...
*
ethnomethodology Ethnomethodology is the study of how social order is produced in and through processes of social interaction.Garfinkel, H. (1974) 'The origins of the term ethnomethodology', in R.Turner (Ed.) Ethnomethodology, Penguin, Harmondsworth, pp 15–18. I ...
Lastly, a third option, taken by many modern social theorists, attempts to find a point of balance between the two previous positions. They see structure and agency as complementary forces – structure influences human behaviour, and humans are capable of changing the social structures they inhabit.
StructurationThe theory of structuration is a social theory of the creation and reproduction of social systems that is based on the analysis of both ''structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or sys ...
is one prominent example of this view. The first approach (emphasizing the importance of societal structure) dominated in classical sociology. Theorists saw unique aspects of the social world that could not be explained simply by the sum of the individuals present. Durkheim strongly believed that the collective had
emergent
emergent
properties of its own and saw the need for a science which would deal with this emergence. The second approach (methodological individualism, etc.), however, also has a well-established position in social science. Many theorists still follow this course (economists, for example, tend to disregard any kind of
holism Holism (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as ...
). The central debate, therefore, pits theorists committed to the notions of methodological holism against those committed to methodological individualism. The first notion, methodological holism, is the idea that actors are socialized and embedded into social structures and institutions that constrain, or enable, and generally shape the individuals' dispositions towards, and capacities for, action, and that this social structure should be taken as primary and most significant. The second notion, methodological individualism, is the idea that actors are the central theoretical and ontological elements in social systems, and social structure is an
epiphenomenon An epiphenomenon (plural: epiphenomena) is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon. The word has two word sense, senses: one that connotation, connotes known causality, causation and one that connotes abse ...
, a result and consequence of the actions and activities of interacting individuals.


Major theorists


Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel Georg Simmel (; ; 1 March 1858 – 26 September 1918) was a German sociologist, philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning ' ...

Georg Simmel
(1858–1918) was one of the first generation of German
nonpositivist In social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The term was formerly used to refer to ...
sociologists. His studies pioneered the concepts of social structure and agency. His most famous works today include ''
The Metropolis and Mental Life''The Metropolis and Mental Life'' ( German: ''Die Großstädte und das Geistesleben'') is a 1903 essay by the German sociologist, Georg Simmel. Overview One of Simmel's most widely read works, ''The Metropolis'' was originally provided as one ...
'' and ''
The Philosophy of Money ''The Philosophy of Money'' (1900; )Simmel, Georg. 2004 900br>''The Philosophy of Money'' (3rd enlarged ed.) edited by D. Frisby, translated by D. Frisby and T. Bottomore. London: Routledge. – via Eddie Jackson. is a book on economic sociology ...
''.


Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias Norbert Elias (; 22 June 1897 – 1 August 1990) was a German sociologist who later became a British citizen. He is especially famous for his theory of civilizing/decivilizing processes. Biography Elias was born on 22 June 1897 in Breslau ...
(1897–1990) was a German sociologist whose work focused on the relationship between power, behaviour, emotion, and knowledge over time. He significantly shaped what is called ''process sociology'' or '' figurational sociology''.


Talcott Parsons

Talcott Parsons Talcott Parsons (13 December 1902 – 8 May 1979) was an American sociologist of the classical tradition The Western Western may refer to: Places *Western, Nebraska, a village in the US *Western, New York, a town in the US *Western Creek, ...

Talcott Parsons
(1902–1979) was an American sociologist and the main theorist of action theory (misleadingly called "structural functionalism") in sociology from the 1930s in the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country in . It consists of 50 , a , five major , 326 , and some . At , it is the world's . The United States shares significan ...

United States
. His works analyze social structure but in terms of voluntary action and through patterns of normative
institutionalization In sociology, institutionalisation (or institutionalization) is the process of embedding some conception (for example a belief, norm, social role, particular value or mode of behavior) within an organization, social system, or society as a whol ...
by codifying its theoretical gestalt into a system-theoretical framework based on the idea of living systems and
cybernetic Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory and purposive systems—their structures, constraints, and possibilities. The core concept of the discipline is circular causality or feedback—that is, where the outcomes of ...
hierarchy A hierarchy (from the Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being "above", "below", or "at the same level as" one another. Hierarch ...
. For Parsons there is no structure–agency problem. It is a pseudo-problem. His development of Max Weber's means-end action structure is summarized in
Instrumental and value-rational action "Instrumental" and "value-rational action" are terms scholars use to identify two kinds of behavior that humans can engage in. Scholars call using means that "work" as tools, instrumental action, and pursuing ends that are "right" as legitimate end ...


Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu Pierre Bourdieu (; 1 August 1930 – 23 January 2002) was a French sociologist, anthropologistAn anthropologist is a person engaged in the practice of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of aspects of humans within past and present Society, so ...
(1930–2002) was a French theorist who presented his ''theory of practice'' on the dichotomic understanding of the relation between agency and structure in a great number of publications, beginning with '' An Outline of the Theory of Practice'' in 1972, where he presented the concept of habitus. His book '' Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste'' (1979), was named as one of the 20th century's 10 most important works of sociology by the
International Sociological Association The International Sociological Association (ISA) is a non-profit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated fo ...
. The key concepts in Bourdieu's work are habitus,
field Field may refer to: Expanses of open ground * Field (agriculture), an area of land used for agricultural purposes * Airfield, an aerodrome that lacks the infrastructure of an airport * Battlefield * Lawn, an area of mowed grass * Meadow, a grassl ...
, and capital. The agent is socialized in a "field", an evolving set of roles and relationships in a social domain, where various forms of "capital" such as prestige or financial resources are at stake. As the agent accommodates to their roles and relationships in the context of their position in the field, they internalize relationships and expectations for operating in that domain. These internalized relationships and habitual expectations and relationships form, over time, the ''habitus''. Bourdieu's work attempts to reconcile structure and agency, as external structures are internalized into the habitus while the actions of the agent externalize interactions between actors into the
social relation In social science, a social relation or social interaction is any relationship between two or more individuals. Social relations derived from agency (sociology), individual agency form the basis of social structure and the basic object for analys ...
ships in the field. Bourdieu's theory, therefore, is a dialectic between "externalizing the internal", and "internalizing the external".


Berger and Luckmann

Peter L. Berger and
Thomas Luckmann Thomas Luckmann (; October 14, 1927 – May 10, 2016) was an American-Austrian sociologist of German and Slovene origin who taught mainly in Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinate ...
in their ''Social Construction of Reality'' (1966) saw the relationship between structure and agency as
dialectic Dialectic or dialectics ( grc-gre, διαλεκτική, ''dialektikḗ''; related to dialogue Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States Engli ...
al. Society forms the individuals who create society – forming a continuous loop.


James Coleman

The sociologist
James Samuel Coleman James Samuel Coleman (May 12, 1926 – March 25, 1995) was an American sociologist, theorist, and empirical researcher, based chiefly at the University of Chicago. He was elected president of the American Sociological Association The American Soc ...
famously diagramed the link between macrosociological phenomena and individual behaviour in what is commonly referred to as ''Coleman's Boat''. A macro-level phenomenon is described as instigating particular actions by individuals, which results in a subsequent macro-level phenomenon. In this way, individual action is taken in reference to a macro-sociological structure, and that action (by many individuals) results in change to that macro-structure.


Anthony Giddens

Contemporary sociology has generally aimed toward a reconciliation of structure and agency as concepts.
Anthony Giddens use both this parameter and , birth_date to display the person's date of birth, date of death, and age at death) --> , death_place = , other_names = Tony Giddens , title = Director of the London School of Economics ...
has developed
structurationThe theory of structuration is a social theory of the creation and reproduction of social systems that is based on the analysis of both ''structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or sys ...
theory in such works as ''The Constitution of Society'' (1984). He presents a developed attempt to move beyond the dualism of structure and agency and argues for the "duality of structure" – where social structure is both the medium and the outcome of
social action In sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies and the Social relation, relationships among individuals within those societies. The te ...
, and agents and structures as mutually constitutive entities with "equal ontological status". For Giddens, an agent's common interaction with structure, as a system of norms, is described as ''structuration''. The term '' reflexivity'' is used to refer to the ability of an agent to consciously alter his or her place in the social structure; thus
globalization Globalization, or globalisation (Commonwealth English The use of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which ha ...

globalization
and the emergence of the 'post-traditional' society might be said to allow for "greater social reflexivity". Social and political sciences are therefore important because social knowledge, as self-knowledge, is potentially
emancipatory
emancipatory
.


Klaus Hurrelmann

His access to research on structure and agency is characterized by socialization theory. Central to the theory is the life-long interaction between the individual and his/her longing for freedom and
autonomy The federal subject The federal subjects of Russia, also referred to as the subjects of the Russian Federation (russian: субъекты Российской Федерации, subyekty Rossiyskoy Federatsii) or simply as the subjects o ...

autonomy
, and society with its pressure of order and structure. As he states in his "Model of Productive Processing of Reality (PPR)", personality "does not form independently from society any of its functions or dimensions but is continuously being shaped, in a concrete, historically conveyed life world, throughout the entire space of the life span". The PPR model places the human subject in a social and ecological context that must be absorbed and processed subjectively. The human being as an autonomous subject has the lifelong task to harmonize the processes of social integration and personal individualization. This task is mastered in specific steps that are typical for the respective age and the achieved developmental stage ("developmental tasks").


Roberto Unger

The social theorist and legal philosopher
Roberto Mangabeira Unger Roberto Mangabeira Unger (; born 24 March 1947) is a Brazilian philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. ...
developed the thesis of
negative capability Negative capability is a phrase first used by Romantic poet John Keats in 1817 to explain the capacity of the greatest writers (particularly Shakespeare) to pursue a vision of artistic beauty even when it leads them into intellectual confusion an ...
to address this problem of
agency Agency may refer to: * a governmental or other institution Institutions, according to Samuel P. Huntington, are "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior". Institutions can refer to mechanisms which govern the behavior Behavior (Am ...
in relation to
structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a material object or system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A ...
. In his work on
false necessity False or falsehood may refer to: *False (logic) In logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek: grc, wikt:λογική, λογική, label=none, lit=possessed of reason, intellectual, dialectical, argumentative, translit=logikḗ)Also related t ...
 – or anti-necessitarian social theory – Unger recognizes the constraints of structure and its molding influence upon the individual, but at the same time finds the individual able to resist, deny, and transcend their context. The varieties of this resistance are negative capability. Unlike other theories of structure and agency, ''negative capability'' does not reduce the individual to a simple actor possessing only the dual capacity of compliance or rebellion, but rather sees him or her as able to partake in a variety of activities of self empowerment.


Recent developments

A recent development in the debate is the critical realist structure/agency perspective embodied in
Roy Bhaskar Ram Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014) was an English philosopher of science best known as the initiator of the philosophical movement of critical realism (CR). Bhaskar argued that the task of science is "the production of the knowledge of those endurin ...
's transformational model of social action (TMSA) which he later expanded into his concept of four-planar social being. A major difference between Giddens' structuration theory and the TMSA is that the TMSA includes a temporal element (time). The TMSA has been further advocated and applied in other social science fields by additional authors, for example in
economics Economics () is a social science that studies the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods and services. Economics focuses on the behaviour and interact ...

economics
by
Tony Lawson Tony Lawson is a British philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. The coining of the term has been attri ...

Tony Lawson
and in
sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the scie ...
by
Margaret Archer Margaret Scotford Archer (born 20 January 1943) is an English sociologist, who spent most of her academic career at the University of Warwick where she was for many years Professor of Sociology. She was also a professor at l'Ecole Polytechniq ...
. In 2005, the ''Journal of Management Studies'' debated the merits of critical realism. Kenneth Wilkinson in the ''Community in Rural America'' took an interactional/field theoretical perspective focusing on the role of community agency in contributing to the emergence of community. With
critical psychology Critical psychology is a perspective on psychology that draws extensively on critical theory. Critical psychology challenges mainstream psychology Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of consciousnes ...
as a framework, the Danish psychologist Ole Dreier proposes in his book ''Psychotherapy in Everyday Life'' that we may best conceptualize persons as participants in social practices (that constitute social structures) who can either reproduce or change these social practices. This indicates that neither participants, nor social practices can be understood when looked at in isolation (in fact, this undermines the very idea of trying to do so), since practice and structure is co-created by participants and since the participants can only be called so, if they ''participate'' in a social practice. The structure/agency debate continues to evolve, with contributions such as Nicos Mouzelis's ''Sociological Theory: What Went Wrong?'' and Margaret Archer's ''Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach'' continuing to push the ongoing development of structure/agency theory. Work in information systems by Mutch (2010) has emphasized Archer's Realist Social Theory as well as Robert Archer's application in the field of education policy. In entrepreneurship a discussion between Sarason et al. and Mole and Mole (2010) used Archer's theory to critique structuration by arguing that starting a new business organization needs to be understood in the context of social structure and agency. However, this depends upon one's view of structure, which differs between Giddens and Archer. Hence if strata in social reality have different ontologies, then they must be viewed as a dualism. Moreover, agents have causal power, and ultimate concerns which they try to fallibly put into practice. Mole and Mole propose entrepreneurship as the study of the interplay between the structures of a society and the agents within it.


Purported differences in approach between European and American thinkers

While the structure–agency debate has been a central issue in social theory, and recent theoretical reconciliation attempts have been made, structure–agency theory has tended to develop more in European countries by European theorists, while social theorists from the United States have tended to focus instead on the issue of integration between macrosociological and microsociological perspectives.
George Ritzer George Ritzer (born October 14, 1940) is an American sociologist, professor, and author who studies globalization Globalization, or globalisation ( Commonwealth English; see spelling differences), is the process of interaction and integrat ...
examines these issues (and surveys the structure agency debate) in greater detail in his book ''Modern Sociological Theory'' (2000).


See also

*
Actor–network theory Actor–network theory (ANT) is a theoretical and methodological approach to social theory where everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationships. It posits that nothing exists outside those relati ...
*
Base and superstructure In Marxist theory Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact wit ...
*
Free will Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action ACTION is a bus operator in , Australia owned by the . History On 19 July 1926, the commenced operating public bus services between Eastlake ( ...

Free will
*
Nature versus nurture The nature versus nurture debate involves whether human behavior is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person's life, or by a person's genes. The alliterative expression "nature and nurture" in English has been in use sinc ...
*
Principal–agent problem The principal–agent problem, in political science Political science is the scientific study of politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions In psychology, decision-making (also sp ...


References


Footnotes


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * * * * * * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Structure And Agency Philosophy of social science
Sociological terminology This category relates to sociological Sociology is the study of society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or s ...
Sociological theories Social ontology