The structure/agency debate has been among the central issues in discussions of social theory. It has been widely assumed that the key theoretical task is to find a link between social structures and acting human beings to reconcile the macro with the micro, society and the individual. This book considers a general movement in which the collective concepts established by the early pioneers of modern sociological thought have been reconsidered in the light of both theoretical critique and empirical results. It argues that the contemporary sociological preoccupation with structure and agency has had disastrous effects on the understanding of Karl Marx's ideas. Through a critical evaluation of 'structuration theory' as a purported synthesis of 'structure and agency', the book also argues that the whole idea of a structure-and-agency 'problem' mythologises the fracture lines that do run through relatively recent sociological thought. Michel Foucault's ideas were used to both shore up existing positions in sociology and to instantiate (or solve) the 'new' structure-agency 'problem'. Foucault allowed sociologists to conduct 'business as usual' between the demise of structuralism and the contemporary consensus around Pierre Bourdieu-Anthony Giddens-Jurgen Habermas and the structure-agency dualisms. Habermas is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary social theory.
Through a critical evaluation of ‘structurationtheory’ as a purported synthesis of ‘structure and agency’ (or, alternatively, structuralism and hermeneutics), I will argue that the whole idea of a structure-and-agency ‘problem’ mythologises the fracture lines that do run through relatively recent sociological thought.
The structure-and-agency ‘problem’ is contrived by a powerful structure ‘lobby’ in sociology that takes its own baseline suppositions as self-evident. It, as in the case of structurationtheory, considers the ‘problem’ in a
social theorists have also arrived. In contemporary social theory, the ontological landscape is very similar, although the starting point is usually different. Social theorists normally begin with the premise that social order exists and with the fact that individuals are manifestly confronted by potent social institutions which are not of their making. Habermas conceives of modern society as a system of state bureaucracies and economic institutions. In his structurationtheory, Giddens also proposes the existence of an objective system, consisting of institutions and
competing logics of thinking
within a security culture, as the relative strength of these logics may change over
The study furthermore seeks to capture not only how culture structures perception and behaviour, but also how events and actors re-structure culture. It
draws on the insights of Anthony Giddens’ ‘theory of structuration’. The structurationtheory was formulated in the mid-1980s as an attempt to synthesise the
insights of two opposing camps in the ﬁeld of sociology – structuralism and voluntarism. Whereas the
wider literature about the
material and embodied nature of memory and time.
What do we mean by agency?
Theory about agency was introduced into archaeology in an influential
paper by Barrett (1988). In this paper, he attempted to shift archaeological analysis away from studying patterns in artefacts to finding a
How do caves act?71
methodology for thinking about the way that relationships between
people were structured (Barrett 1988, 8–10). To do this, Barrett drew
to a large degree on the ‘structurationtheory’ of Anthony Giddens
(1979, 1984). Structurationtheory
alcohol and the implications for social cohesion’, Environment and Planning A , 42 (2010), 8–22.
7 R. Mohammad, ‘Making gender, ma(r)king place: youthful british Pakistani Muslim women's narratives of urban space’, Environment and Planning A , 45 (2013), 1802–1822.
8 B. McGrath and O. McGarry, ‘The religio-cultural dimensions of life for young Muslim women in a small Irish town’, Journal of Youth Studies , 17:7 (2014), 948–964.
9 O. McGarry, ‘Knowing “how to go on”: structurationtheory
some confidence. First, throughout Giddens’ The Constitution of Society (1984), the definitive statement of structurationtheory that I have concentrated on here, the emphasis, despite the consistent leitmotif of human agency and discussions of transformation, conflict and contradiction, is overwhelmingly on systemic reproduction and integration. Mild determinism, at least – and perhaps a functionalist impulse, too – seems to be integral to Giddens’ theory of structuration.
Second, traces of stronger versions of structural determinism can also be found
‘there are only, in any given society, a limited number of classes’ (1981: 106) and that one aim of ‘structuration’ theory was to identify the factors which generate ‘identifiable social groupings’ (ibid.: 107).
Despite all their efforts, however, the failure of class analysts to identify actual social classes, or even to agree on how many there are or what their ‘boundaries’ are, should remind us that the notion of social class does not refer to an observable entity but is, rather, a concept which leads us to think about patterns of social stratification
someone’s speech is less significant than
what it has to say about their authority to speak. Bourdieu rejected the
tendency of structuralist linguists such as Saussure and Austin to
separate ‘internal’ and ‘external’ linguistics, which effectively amounts
to treating language as an autonomous object that can be studied
discretely (Bourdieu, 1991b: 107–16), insisting that language cannot
be conceived in isolation from its social uses. Against Habermas’
theory of communicative action11 (and also Giddens’ (1976; 1979)
structurationtheory), people do not use language
’, 375. ‘Great pain was inflicted on the accused
witches and sorcerers.The pastors were present and asked the prisoners
to confess to diabolism. Naturally they did in the end.’
See Ira Cohen, ‘Structurationtheory and
social praxis ’, Social Theory Today , eds. Anthony
Giddens and Jonathan Turner (Stanford: Stanford University Press