Agency is a phrase used by Anthony Giddens to describe human behavior that has the potential to affect social arrangements via its intentional or unforeseen repercussions. In addition to possessing the potential to change structures, the agency also has the impact of replicating them.
In contrast to the purported determinism of structural theories, the word agency is often used in opposition to structure and is frequently little more than a synonym for action. This implies that human behavior is inherently unpredictable. If the phrase has a broader sense, it refers to the actor’s psychological and social psychological makeup and means the ability to take voluntary action.
Agency is the ability of actors to act without being constrained by the governing social structures. The phrase highlights human activity’s volitional, purposeful character rather than limited, determined elements. Although it is used in various contexts, methodological individualism, ethnomethodology, phenomenology, and symbolic interactionism all strongly emphasize it. Therefore, the significance of human purpose is highlighted, placing the person at the center of any investigation and posing questions about political and moral decision-making.
Agency and Giddens
According to Giddens (1984), the agency is any human action—collective, structural, and individual—that “makes a difference” to a social result. Giddens challenges the simplistic polarization of “structure” and “agency” in this manner. This relates to his contention that structure must be seen as both “enabling” and “constraining.”
Agency and Bourdieu
In terms of the agency vs. structure argument, sociological theories are often classified according to their relative importance.
Recent theorists have entered the discussion in an intentional effort to get beyond this duality. An excellent example is the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In the English-speaking world, Bourdieu is most recognized for his habitus and cultural capital theories, but he also developed a comprehensive theory of social order in his many books and papers. The latter is focused on the uneven distribution of information via educational institutions, which reproduces modern culture and benefits those in positions of power.
Bourdieu urges a constructivist approach to sociology, transcending essentialism and all notions of the taken for granted in daily life, particularly in his later works. He challenges the dichotomy between macro and micro, structure and agency, and insists that social existence’s subjective and objective aspects are inextricably intertwined.
Theoretical Logic in Sociology, a four-volume work by American sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, makes a similar case for multidimensional sociology that integrates the metaphysical and empirical, individual will and group dominance, and normative and instrumental behavior (1984). Talcott Parsons, he adds, came the closest of all sociological theorists to attaining this combination.