The (2004) is widely elected by many contemporary

The conceptualisations underpinning the ‘Agency versus Structure’
framework are central to sociological theory (Stones, 2007). ‘Agency’ refers to
the extent of individuals to practice their own free will, whether that be
individually or as a collective group (Ritzer and Gindoff, 1994). Conversely,
‘Structure’ seeks to explain the factors that hinder an individual’s ability to
live as an autonomous agent. These factors can include social class, education,
religion, gender, ethnicity and much more, even rudimentary biological and
genetic factors (Lane, 2001). In other words, structure supports the notion
that it is the social existence of an individual which determines their
consciousness rather than that of their physical existence. Both seemingly
paradoxical elements of the framework seek to theorise one’s subjective state.
Subjectivity is a term loosely used by social scientists to denote the shared
inner life of the subject and the way in which subjects feel, respond and
experience (Luhrmann, 2006; Ortner, 2005). The following definition of subjectivity offered by Holland and
Leander (2004) is widely elected by many contemporary anthropologists; “we
think about subjectivities as actors’ thoughts, sentiments and embodied
sensibilities, and, especially, their sense of self and self-world relations” (Holland
and Leander 2004, p.127). The dichotomy of structure and agency is significant
of the position which social thinkers adopt in relation to this fundamental
ontological question which often also dictates their stance on other deep
questions (King, 2010). Although ‘agency vs structure’ frameworks seek to conceptualise
subjectivities through giving prominence to either agency or structure, various modern social theorists reject
the notion that agency and structure are conceptually or practically distinct
(Berger and Luckman, 1966; Bourdieu, 1977; Giddens, 1986). This paper will
argue in support of this stance.

It will be argued that the ‘agency versus structure’ framework does
not act as a particularly useful tool towards an understanding of
subjectivities because various theories spawned from the framework have since
contributed to a greater understanding of subjectivities. These theories take
on a ‘dialectical’ approach in that they posit that agency affects structure,
but structure also affects agency and are concerned to provide an understanding
of how structure and agency relate to one another and interact (McAnulla,
2002). The paper will firstly establish the shortcomings of the framework. The
framework will then be compared to Gidden’s (1986) ‘Structuration Theory’,
Bourdieu’s (1977) ‘Theory of Practice’ and lastly Archer’s (1982)
‘Morphogenetic Approach’. Each of these theories offer a different yet more
convincing take on subjectivities than that of the agency versus structure framework,
thus undermining the usefulness of the agency vs structure framework.

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Criticisms of the ‘Agency vs Structure’ Framework
(800 w)

A
manifestation of an age-old debate, the structure vs agency framework has
subjugated and puzzled philosophers for centuries. It refers to the essential
issue of determinism against free will, i.e. to what degree are we products of
our environment as opposed to the extent to which we can completely dictate our
own choices and future. Such questions have confounded great notable thinkers
throughout human history. Thus, the idea that an ‘antidote’ can be conceived to
such a complexity seems unlikely. It would therefore be plausible to postulate
that, despite the fact that the issue of structure-agency is of deep
philosophical interest, it is an abstract and perhaps intractable debate and of
minimal use to the practicing social scientist in terms of reaching a genuine
understanding of subjectivities. Definitively, the issue appears to boil down
to little more than common-sense understanding that as humans we are hindered
by circumstances yet are given certain autonomy to be in charge of our own
destiny. As such, it is merely worth much reflection (McAnulla, 2002).

A
particular criticism of the framework is that it can be said to assume that
what causes events in the social world is a straightforward matter. Various
theorists claim that the actions of individuals may be a consequence of deep
underlying structures which they may have no conscious awareness of (McAnulla,
2002), the framework does little to address this idea. The conceptualisation of
‘structure’ was birthed from the structuralism movement, derived from the work
of the linguistic philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure’s major
contribution to the study of linguistics was to believe that language be viewed
as a system, i.e. the relationship between words is structured (Han, 2013). A
prominent criticism to structuralist literature is that it continually
undermines, or eradicates completely, the potential of individuals
orchestrating effective action outside of their ‘structures’. Through applying
individuals a role as just the ‘operators’ within structures, it implicitly
banishes the possibility of humans having the ability to shape a course of
rigorous development. Overall, structuralism showcases a bleak subjectivity
whereby individuals operate in subservience of social structures to which they
little or zero control (McAlluna, 2002). This concept therefore cannot justify
instances in which individuals have successfully defied and worked against
their respective social ‘structures’ to the alteration of their lives and/or
society e.g. Insert example from an ethnography.
Justifications for such examples can henceforth involve awkward epistemological
shifts under the perspective of structure (Sewell, 1992). Furthermore,
structuralist accounts undermine the reflexivity and autonomy of human
activity. There is a tendency to focus on an individual’s position in a
hierarchy and to not acknowledge the ambiguity and ambivalence of human
subjectivity. A misleading view of reality can be said to be present under
structuralism as excessive power and influence is given to few structures. For
instance, feminists have accused Marxists of disregarding gender as a
structure. Moreover, repetitive patterns of behaviour is a key implication of
structuralism (Sewell, 1992) and therefore fails to address instances in which individuals
showcase successful defiance against the ‘status quo’. In response,
individualised forms of agency are criticised by advocates of a structuralist
position, for classifying single actors as the key causes of events, which is
considered to be a flawed starting point when aiming to conjure up an
understating of the subjective state of individuals (Callinicos, 2004).

Essentialism,
‘where something either is or “has” agency or structure but not both’ (Fuchs,
2001, p.26), should be therefore avoided in order to eradicate the
deterministic implications of adopting just one of the stances of the framework.
Yet, establishing the real differences between structure and agency does not
rule out their relatedness, especially when considered over a period of time.
Thus, an orthodox notion of agency which acknowledges the potential of
individuals to produce conscious goal orientated activity and exercise power in
order to follow through on these intentions should be elected with a particular
condition. That is, the power that ‘agents’ are able to demonstrate and the
interests which could help inform the goals to which this activity is to be
directed are as a result of the position occupied within the respective social
structures by the actor in question (Callinicos, 2004). The following
dialectical approaches which aim to form an understanding of subjectivities
follow this particular condition, thus serving as more useful frameworks than that
of the traditional structure versus agency framework. This is because the
dialectical approaches provide a more accurate, realistic and plausible understanding
of subjectivities through various ways, of which will be described in the
following exerts of this paper.

 

Giddens’ (1986) ‘Structuration Theory’
(850 w)

Anthony
Giddens began to reflect on the debate of structure versus agency due to his disapproval
and frustration with the habit of social scientists opting to side themselves
with one or the other of this basic dichotomy (Giddens, 1979). Subsequently, he
devised ‘structuration’ theory in an attempt to produce an adequate theoretical
account of subjectivity which neither eliminates the role of structure nor that
of agency (Jary and Jary, 1995). Giddens’ metaphor for this is that, as opposed
to being distinct phenomena, structure and agency are in fact “two sides of the
same coin” (Giddens, 1984, p. 374). The essential premise of the theory is that
structure and agency are not dualistic in nature but are mutually dependent and
internally related. It is posited that structure only exists via agency and
agents harbour ‘rules and resources’, which Gidden’s refers to as ‘modalities’,
between them which will aid or hinder their actions. Giddens claimed that that
structures such as establishments, moral codes and other sets of expectations,
are universally steady yet have the potential to be modified mainly during the
unintentional consequences of action, e.g. when individuals choose to turn a
blind eye to the social norms, substitute them, or replicate them in an altered
way (Lamsal, 2012). Like structuralists, Giddens acknowledges that structures
do limit the autonomy of individuals. Conversely, unlike structuralists,
Giddens states that the ‘rules and resources’ also permit certain autonomous
actions. e.g.

“For example, citizens living within
the EU are subject to particular rules and resources. These constrain people
living in the EU: e.g. they may have no option but to abide by decisions
reached in the European Court of Justice. However, such rulings can be enabling
for citizens, e.g. directives on working conditions”. Replace with example from
ethnography.

 

According to Giddens, there are three types of structures at play
within a social system: signification, legitimation and domination. He devised
the stratification model of structure in a bid to demonstrate the links between
the structure and the system of action (Jacobs, 1993). Firstly, signification is
said to produce meaning through organised webs of language (semantic codes,
interpretive schemes and discursive practices), Giddens is extending the role
of the actor to have the ability to distinguish and manipulate a structured
language by interpretive meanings. Secondly, the dimension of legitimation
creates a moral order via naturalisation of societal norms, values and
standards. As individual agents come into contact, they display consciously,
subconsciously or consciously meaning of their actions. This manner of
interaction dictates the present social norms and are weighted against the
moral rules of the structure. As a result, despite an action being viewed as
legitimate in the social order, it is structured by this dimension of
legitimation (Lamsal, 2012). Lastly, the element of domination centres on the
production and practice of power which are initiated from the control of
resources. Giddens posits that the forces of domination and submission are
present in the sensitive power play which Karl Marx is notable for remarking
upon. Resources can be utilised as a type of authority demonstrated by a
manager and employee interaction. Resources can furthermore be used as in the
form of property such as the allocation of wealthy or property (Lamsal, 2012). A
combination of the three key structures explained above be demonstrated in Insert example from ethnography.

Despite the applicability of Gidden’s structuration theory, many
authors contend that although Gidden’s goal of transcending the traditional
dualism of structure and agency may be well-intentioned, it is ultimately
unsuccessful (Craib, 1992; Archer, 1996, Layder, 1997). They posit that Giddens
is false in his claim that structure and agency are mutually constitutive: that
they are in fact one and the same thing. Archer (1996) states that this
produces a state of ‘central conflation’, whereby agency and structure are
elided together to the point where the distinction between them becomes
obsolete. As a result, it becomes challenging to investigate the nature of the
interrelationship or dialectic between structure and agency (McAnulla, 2002).
Subsequently, there is a difficulty in using structuration theory empirically.
Gidden’s resolve on the mutual constitution on structure and agency means that
he is incapable of giving any understanding of the practical interaction
between structure and agency in his own work (Layder, 1997). Furthermore, Craib
(1992) contends that it is not plausible to develop one, all-embracing theory
of the social world. Rather, he believes that ‘the world is made up of many
different phenomena which do not fit together’ (Craib, 1992, p.7). This
criticism lends itself to Feyerabend’s concept of ‘theoretical pluralism’ (Feyerabend,
1965); which denotes a theoretical meld in which all differences disappear and
fails to relate adequately to a world which is increasingly fragmented,
unhinged and disordered. Despite these criticisms
structuration theory still works better than A vs S because…

 

Bourdieu’s (1977) ‘Theory of Practice’
(850 w)

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
was a French sociologist and philosopher whose research “left an indelible mark
on the field of educational and cultural sociology” (Ozbilgin & Tatli,
2005, p. 855). Bourdieu’s writing comes to provide a genuine advance in social
theory, making a substantial contribution to the development of the agency
versus structure dichotomy (King, 2000). The ‘Theory of Practice’ conceived by
Bourdieu harbours significant implications for contemporary structure versus
agency debates because it leans in favour of a social ontology which eradicates
the dualism of the debate. The concept of ‘habitus’ is fundamental to
Bourdieu’s theory of practice. This conceptualisation refers to “our overall
orientation to, or way of being in the world; our predisposed way of thinking,
acting and moving in and through the social environment” (Sweetman, 2003,
p.532) and is intended to remove the structure and agency dichotomy as it
mirrors the embodiment of social structure. Via shaping disposition and
practice, habitus can replicate social structure and, in this way, collectively
habitus and social structure are continually reconstituted (Akram, 2013). Habitus
occupies various ‘fields’, Bourdieu described field as a network of
relationships between individual and institutional agents that rules how they
distribute certain types of resources, such as economic or cultural capital
(Bourdieu,1977). Each field is said to contain its own logic and it is the
field which dually informs and imposes various parameters on practice. Despite
the implication that habitus and field are not exclusively bounded together,
Bourdieu considers each as sharing a compatibility, it is this compatibility
which determines the viability of institutions. Essentially, institutions (e.g.
political, economic) are only completely viable if they are durably woven into
the temperament of agents operating within the field (Bourdieu, 1977). 

Although the field imposes
restrictions upon practice, the activity of agents also dictates the habitus of
the field and hence the field itself. As a result, distinct ‘games’ are played
within fields. For instance, in the artistic field players contend for the
numerous goods and resources that are deemed to be valuable within the
respective field of action. Through this process players both orchestrate the
habitus of that field and the types of action that are constitutive of that
field (Adkins, 2003). Insert example from ethnography.
This position establishes that social situations tend to vary, and that a “good
player” must often showcase creativity and adaptability. Through the analogy of
the game and the game player, Bourdieu can disqualify (theoretical) concepts,
such as rules and intentional action, from the process whereby structures and
agents interact: the process in many ways becomes seamless, mundane and
ordinary (Akram, 2013).

Various
criticisms have been applied to Bourdieu’s theory of practice. For example, the
theory has been thought to entail a deterministic schema with the formula
“structures produce habitus, which determines practices, which produced
structures”; (Bidet, 1979; Jenkins, 1982, Gorder, 1980; Giroux, 1982) thereby
implying that position in structure inevitably dictates social strategy.
Moreover, the incoherence between the habitus and practical theory in
Bourdieu’s writing and the sociological superiority of practical theory over
the habitus is graphically demonstrated by the problem of social change as many
critics have voiced (e.g., Garnham and Williams, 1980; Gorder, 1980;
Swartz, 1977:, Wacquant, 1987, Brubaker, 1985). The issue, as claimed by these
critics is this: should the habitus be determined by objective conditions, guaranteeing
suitable action for the social position in which any individual was placed, and
the habitus acted as unconscious dispositions and categories, then social
change would be inconceivable. Individuals would act based on the objective
structural condition in which they found themselves. Subsequently, they would
merely replicate such objective condition by repeating the same practices.
Giroux (1982) concurs; “its definition and use reduce it to a conceptual
straight-jacket that provides no room for modification or escape. Thus, the
notion of habitus smothers the possibility for social change” (p. 7).
Despite these criticisms theory of practice still
works better than A vs S because…

Archer’s (1982) ‘Morphogenetic Approach’
(850 w)

Depelteau (2008) suggests that
the general conceptions underpinning the theories brought about by Gidden and
Bourdieu, as explored above, are flawed in that they give too much power to
social structures or agency. Margaret Archer (1982) developed the morphogenetic
approach to combat this shortcoming, the approach is now considered to be one
of the most sophisticated attempts to define the relationship between structures
and agency and, in turn, subjectivity itself (Depelteau, 2008). Unlike Giddens,
Archer insists upon the idea that structure and agency are indeed different and
that we require a very clear analytical distinction between the dualisms.
Structure operates in certain ways as agency operates in different ways.
Moreover, it is posited that both structure and agency demonstrate unique
properties and powers and, as such, are irreducible to one another. Archer
proposes that as opposed to structure and agency being two sides to the same
coin, they are in fact comparable to two distinct strands which intertwine with
one another. It is also suggested that the way to avoid structuralism or
intentionalism is not, as Giddens postulates, to conflate structure and agency,
but instead to analyse how structure and agency relate to one another over
time. Through this method, Archer suggests, that we can acknowledge the
interplay, or dialectical relationship between structure and agency (McAnulla,
2002). Essentially, structure and agency operate in dissimilar ways over time;
they are temporally separable. Under this theory, structure necessarily
predates agency and alters the structure necessarily post-date these actions.
Archer explains; “Structures, as emergent entities are not only irreducible to
people they pre-exist them, and people are not puppets of structures because
they have their own emergent properties which mean their either reproduce
transform social structures rather than create them” (Archer, 1996:1).

The morphogenetic cycle
devised by Archer is a basic model of the relationship between structure and
agency over time, consisting of three key parts; structural conditioning (T1),
structural interaction (T2-T3) and structural elaboration (T4). Structural
conditioning (T1) refers to the context in which action subsequently commences.
Based on past actions particular conditions emerge (e.g. climate change, the
industrial revolution, the structure of political institutions), of which impact
the interests people have, such as career, educational opportunities and
lifestyle. Action is limited to take place within set of pre-determined,
structured conditions. Social interaction (T2-T3) seeks to explain the idea
that agents are highly influenced by the structured conditions at T1. Yet, they
can exercise some degree of power to affect events. Within this stage of the
cycle, groups and individuals come into contact, showcasing their own
abilities, skills and attitudes. Agents will strive to attain their own goals
and affect outcomes. Generally, they will participate in processes of conflict
and/or consensual compromise with other agents. Structural elaboration (T4)
occurs when the activity at T2-T3 causes the structural conditions to change,
either marginally or significantly. At this stage, some groups could have
successfully modified conditions to coincide with their interests and other groups
may not have achieved such a successful scenario. More often than not, changes
which takes place in structural conditions