How Does Anthony Giddens Attempt to Reconcile 'Structure' and 'Agency' in His Sociological Theory?

Essay by janiepie306University, Bachelor'sA-, April 2004

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How does Anthony Giddens attempt to reconcile

'structure' and 'agency' in his sociological theory?

The fact that we are being asked to describe how Anthony Giddens attempts to reconcile 'structure' and 'agency' into his sociological theory suggests one of two assumptions. Either the definitions of 'structure' and 'agency' are seen as being open for sociological debate or, the relationship between 'structure' and 'agency' is seen as being a problem area in the final analysis. Whilst taking these particular assumptions as a point of reference, we begin our quest of clarifying the suspected problems of definition and relationship by reviewing the different perspectives and theories of other well-known sociologists.

For many years, sociology has fallen into three broad approaches: Structuralist, Social Action/Interpretive and Combined/Dialectic. Sociologists in the structuralist camp, notably the functionalists Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Émile Durkheim (1857-1917), Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) and some Marxist perspectives claimed that objective structures and systems determine the behaviour of agents (individuals).

Agents, in turn, are not considered able to take independent decisions. They merely react to pressure exerted upon them by structures; therefore, society creates the individual. Social Action/Interpretivist sociologists on the other hand, Max Weber (1864-1920) and George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) for example, wanted to show how human thought, experience and conduct are essentially social. In other words, they believe that the individual creates society (Haralambos & Holborn 1997:903). In terms of their central concepts of system (structure and determinism) and action (agency and will) the different opinions, between Structural Functionalist theories and Interpretivist Interactionist theories, can be usefully seen below;

System Action

Social structures are the basic elements in social life. They have a reality over and above individuals. The actions of individuals are the basic elements in social life. They are the building blocks of sociology.

Social reality is...