Structure and Agency

Structure and Agency Sociology Definition


Structure and agency are elements that influence human behavior. Individuals’ ability to act autonomously and make their own free decisions is agency. The structure is the recurring pattern that influences or restricts the available options and possibilities. In deciding whether a person behaves as a free agent or per social structure, the structure vs. agency argument may be seen as a conflict between socialization and autonomy.


Structure and agency are fundamental elements in sociological theory. Typically, structures are seen as the more permanent and durable features of the social environment. As used by Émile Durkheim and those working within a similar tradition, the structure is a metaphor that refers to societal traits comparable to those of the skeleton in the area of anatomy or the framework of a building.

Comparable to the physiology of an organism or the activities undertaken inside the spaces of a structure, the agency is regarded as a more processual and dynamic feature of society. The capacity of people or organizations, such as class movements, governments, or economic and corporate organizations, to “make things happen” within certain institutional restrictions and possibilities is called agency.

In sociology, structure and agency are the two most important drivers of social outcomes, but their relative significance is a major topic in sociological theory.

Berger and Luckmann see the relationship between structure and agency as a dialectic in which society shapes the individuals who construct society. For Bhaskar, a ‘relational’ and ‘transformational’ perspective of the person and society demands a greater emphasis. Society is the ever-present condition and the continuously repeated result of human action.

Lastly, Giddens, in possibly the most sophisticated effort to escape the idea of a ‘dualism’ between structure and agency, argues for a duality of structure in which:

The structure is both the medium and the result of the behavior it organizes recursively.

The structure is defined as ‘rules and resources that do not exist apart from the activities but have an ongoing influence on their creation and reproduction.

Because parallels with physical structures, such as those sometimes seen in functionalism, are viewed as entirely invalid. In Giddens’ conception, the term structure’ must be seen as both enabling and restricting.

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