agency

The term agency is usually juxtaposed to structure and is often no more than a synonym for action, emphasizing implicitly the undetermined nature of human action, as opposed to the alleged determinism of structural theories. If it has a wider meaning, it is to draw attention to the psychological and social psychological make-up of the actor, and to imply the capacity for willed (voluntary) action.
Sociological theories are often characterized according to the relative emphasis they place on agency or structure-and in terms, therefore, of an agency versus structure debate. Some recent theorists have intervened in the debate in a conscious attempt to transcend this dualism . The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is a good example. Bourdieu is best known in the English-speaking world for his concepts of cultural capital and habitus , although his numerous books and articles also contain a full-blown theory of social order . The latter centres on the reproduction of contemporary culture -which favours the interests of those in power-via the differential distribution of knowledge through educational institutions. Especially in his later work, Bourdieu calls for a constructivist (see social constructionism ) approach to sociology, transcending both essentialism and all ideas of the taken for granted in everyday life . His insistence that the objective and subjective aspects of social life are inescapably bound together leads him to challenge the dualism of macro versus micro and structure versus agency, in texts such as Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977), Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977), Distinction (1984), Homo Academicus (1988), In Other Words(1990), The Logic of Practice (1990), and The Craft of Sociology (1991). It is not clear that these diverse texts form a systematic sociological project, far less solve the dualism of structure versus agency, but an argument to that effect has been constructed by (among others), ‘Rethinking Classical Theory: The Sociological Vision of Pierre Bourdieu’, Theory and Society (1985).
Similarly, the American sociologist Jeffrey Alexander argues for a multidimensional sociology, bringing together the metaphysical and empirical, individual volition and collective domination, and normative and instrumental action, notably in his four-volumeTheoretical Logic in Sociology (1984). He also argues that Talcott Parsons came closer to achieving this synthesis than did any other sociological theorist. See also action theory ; structuration.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • agency — agen·cy n pl cies 1: the person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved death by criminal agency W. R. LaFave and A. W. Scott, Jr. 2 a: a consensual fiduciary relationship in which one party acts on behalf of and under the… …   Law dictionary

  • AGENCY — AGENCY, legal concept whereby the lawful acts of someone authorized by, and acting on behalf of, another are as effective as if performed by the principal; recognized in Jewish law from ancient times. A basic concept in the Talmud is that a man s …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Agency — may refer to any of the following:*Agency (country subdivision) *Agency (law), the status of a person who acts for another person. *Agency (Mormonism) *Agency (philosophy), the capacity to make choices *Employment agency, a business that serves… …   Wikipedia

  • Agency — Agency, MT U.S. Census Designated Place in Montana Population (2000): 324 Housing Units (2000): 90 Land area (2000): 8.577370 sq. miles (22.215286 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.007082 sq. miles (0.018342 sq. km) Total area (2000): 8.584452 sq.… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Agency, IA — U.S. city in Iowa Population (2000): 622 Housing Units (2000): 286 Land area (2000): 0.578829 sq. miles (1.499159 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.578829 sq. miles (1.499159 sq. km) FIPS code:… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Agency, MO — U.S. village in Missouri Population (2000): 599 Housing Units (2000): 222 Land area (2000): 1.936828 sq. miles (5.016361 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.936828 sq. miles (5.016361 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Agency, MT — U.S. Census Designated Place in Montana Population (2000): 324 Housing Units (2000): 90 Land area (2000): 8.577370 sq. miles (22.215286 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.007082 sq. miles (0.018342 sq. km) Total area (2000): 8.584452 sq. miles… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • agency — a gen*cy ([=a] jen*s[y^]), n.; pl. {Agencies} ([=a] jen*s[i^]z). [agentia, fr. L. agens, agentis: cf. F. agence. See {Agent}.] 1. The faculty of acting or of exerting power; the state of being in action; action; instrumentality. [1913 Webster]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • agency — [n1] organization, often businessrelated bureau, company, department, firm, office; concepts 325,381,441 agency [n2] power, instrumentality action, activity, auspices, channel, efficiency, force, influence, instrument, instrumentality,… …   New thesaurus

  • agency — [ā′jən sē] n. pl. agencies [ML agentia < prp. of L agere, ACT1] 1. active force; action; power 2. that by which something is done; means; instrumentality 3. the business of any person, firm, etc. empowered to act for another 4. the business… …   English World dictionary

  • agency — (n.) 1650s, active operation, from M.L. agentia, noun of state from L. agentem (nom. agens) effective, powerful, prp. of agere (see ACT (Cf. act) (n.)). Meaning establishment where business is done for another first recorded 1861 …   Etymology dictionary

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