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.
sociological thinkers at a particular time. To anticipate our conclusion, we will show that precisely the problems of adapting Foucault’s work to a sociological problematic, as elaborated by Fox (1998), were used to loosely support a vague theoretical status quo . In other words, Foucault allowed sociologists to conduct ‘business as usual’ between the demise of structuralism and the contemporary consensus around Bourdieu–Giddens–Habermas and the structure–agencydualisms.
Foucault in the 1980s and 1990s: from ‘traditional’ theory to structure–agency
the works of those like Parsons or its mythical representation in Tolkien’s novel. Given the failure of Parsons and others to uproot ontological dualism, it seems unlikely that interventions today will be any more successful – however apparently decisive. Perhaps the best way of transcending the structure–agencydualism is not to argue with it but, on the contrary, merely do something different. Instead of engaging in debate which ultimately drags social theorists around the same totem, those sociologists oriented to an interactionist approach might engage in a
between them, our brief discussion of the three perspectives most often described as microsociological – symbolic interactionism, phenomenology and ethnomethodology – does reveal certain important similarities. We wish to emphasise: first, that none of these approaches leads to a ‘subjective’ analytical orientation; second, that none of them accepts any notion of action as radically voluntaristic; third, that all are opposed in principle to the structure/agencydualism, taking ‘social structures’ to be generated and maintained through situated collaborative interaction
deterministic conceptualisations and began to emphasise the significance of a sociology in which action was as important as the
orthodox emphasis on structure, and also with the looser conceptualisation of the social as system that characterised the later work
of an erstwhile systems theorist, Eisenstadt (Intimations: 54–6). It is
worth emphasising that Bauman calls for a new type of sociology
not by citing much relevant empirical evidence but primarily on
the grounds that other theorists like Giddens and Touraine have
moved to a more voluntaristic stance on the structure/agency
world they live in, and such struggles cannot be reduced to either structural imperatives or to the particular motivations of particular participants. Both the nature of the individual and the shape of the world they live in are produced by human activities, and these activities are always analytically primary in Marx’s work.
In this sense, then, Marx’s arguments are relevant to sociology in at least three ways. Firstly, they demonstrate that appending a structure–agencydualism to an existing body of work only reveals the incoherence of that dualism
-articulate constructivism on the basis of a critique of the main thrusts of constructivist
political economy. Constructivists generally cling to the middle ground within
the so-called third debate of international theory between positivist and postpositivist approaches (see Lapid, 1989). They are distinguishable from other
approaches critical of positivism, mainly due to their acceptance of a material
reality which is at least partly separable from the ideational realm. Less appreciated, however, is constructivism’s insistence on the importance of agency, or