Agents and structures are not two independent phenomena, a dualism, but rather a duality.
One of our MGMT 590 assignments was to summarize a classic article or book for the class. For my classic I chose Anthony Giddens’ (1984) The Constitution of Society. The book brings together in one place an approach to social science – structuration theory (ST) – which Giddens had begun developing in earlier works. In one sentence structuration theory’s thesis is that: Structure is both the medium and outcome of action.
Theoretically, structuration theory’s focus is on understanding human agency and social institutions, i.e., the social world (p. xvii). For Giddens, doing so coherently requires that the dualism between objectivism and subjectivism “be reconceptualized as a duality – the duality of structure” (p. xxi; see also Cohen, 2000). The result is not “interpretive sociology,” not “structural sociology” (p. xxi), and not “methodological individualism” (p. xxvii).
The rules and resources drawn upon in the production and reproduction of social action are at the same time the means of system reproduction… The constitution of agents and structures are not two independently given sets of phenomena, a dualism, but represent a duality” (pp. 19, 25).
Methodologically, social practices are the locus of this duality; they are “at the root of the constitution of both subject and social object” (p. xxii). For structuration theory, practices are the central unit of analysis (Cohen, 2000: 95, 96), and they are always situated in time and space (p. xxii, xxiv). For Giddens, one implication of putting time and space at the heart of structuration theory is a need to rethink arbitrary divisions between sociology, history and geography (p. xxi). In sum, structuration theory privileges neither the individual nor the collective, “but social practices ordered across space and time” (p. 2).
Empirically, studying structuration “means studying the modes in which such systems… are produced and reproduced” as a result of the activities of situated actors (p. 25). Structuration theory can guide such research by drawing attention to (1) “the routinized intersection of practices which are the ‘transformation points’ in structural relations;” and (2) “the modes in which institutionalized practices connect social with system integration” (p. xxxi).
Download Book Summary (52k .pdf)
Citation: Giddens, A. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.