Monday, January 14, 2008

Agency, Structure, and Power--oh my.

Whew! Sure wish I had known more of the names Giddens was dropping, but I did my best to extract what I could from his ideas on agency, power, and structure, and while it's sure to lack a sleek literary flow, here's what I came up with:

--"To study the structure of society is like studying the anatomy of the organism, to study its functions is like studying the physiology of the organism" (60). But how can we truly assign structure to something as fluid as social relationships? Can they even be predictable enough to be discussed in terms of "structure"? I suppose to some degree we are always observing "patterns" on a micro level (between people) and "functions" on a macro level (how those patterns operate at systems), but what if these patterns are read/perceived differently by different observers? Surely such subjectivity about human behavior exists, right? I suppose, though, that everyday pleasantries ("Hi, how was your weekend?") are social patterns on which we can rely... a kind of structure, I guess.

--Back up a second: At first I liked the way he discredited the idea that society is a force with which no one can reckon, and instead claimed that humans have agency, control, and power to reason within it (50). I can get behind this for those who already hold power, but what about the poor? This idea on agency, it seems, could easily slide into a "bootstraps" mentality, and that wouldn't be cool. Wouldn't structural racism disprove his original idea?

--"The concept of structuration involves that of the duality of structure, which relates to the fundamentally recursive character of social life, and expresses the mutual dependence of structure and agency" (69). Yes, this is sounding like the social theory I'm familiar with... the mutual dependence of action (or agency, as he calls it) and structure... that one can't exist without the other. He says that structure can shape 'personality' (micro) and 'society' (macro), all social (inter)action is recursive. Structure, then, is "both enabling and constraining" (69). Is that because we individual agency, and like he says, each action is "a production of something new," but at the same time we are always operating under/within the constraints of a dominant culture/society? This notion of being "stuck" within a larger system seems to contradict his later idea that structure is "not to be conceptualized as a barrier to action," but as an agent of its production. To me, it sounds like he's saying that on the one hand we are peons within an encompassing structure, yet on the other, that our personal power can impact this bigger force. Individual will/motivation can conquer?

I have more questions than answers this week (obviously).

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