Giddens’ Structuration Theory – A Summary

 

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

Giddens rejects Positivism because of its mistaken search for the general laws of social life. Giddens believes that human beings are thoughtful and creative and thus cannot be wholly predicted in advance.

Marx downgraded the centrality of capitalism to being just one of four pillars of late-modernity along with surveillance, military power and industrialism.

Giddens draws selectively on a wide range of action theories, including Goffman, to argue that individuals always have some form of agency to transform a situation; even slaves have the capacity to act in different ways.

Practices always have the possibility of changing, and we can never guarantee that they will be reproduced, and one of the key features of late modern (compared to traditional) societies, is that there are more transformations in a shorter period of time.

He sees actors as using knowledge to engage in practical action, thus society is consciously reproduced (or transformed) in every social encounter.

However – ‘the realm of human agency is bounded’ for the ‘constitution of society is a skilled accomplishment of its members, but one that does not take place under conditions that are wholly intended or wholly comprehended by them’. (1976). For Giddens – people make society but with resources and ‘practices’ inherited from the past.

Structure for Giddens is not something which exists outside of the individual, but just patterns of practices. As practices change so does structure, and vice-versa.

Most of our practices take place at the level of practical consciousness, where we just act without thinking about it, however sometimes we operate at the level of ‘discursive consciousness’ – where we reflect on how we did things, but sometimes we find it difficult to talk about – here the example is given of footballers finding it difficult to describe how to play a game of football, they just know how to do it, when they doing it.

Practical consciousness is informed by ‘Mutual knowledge’ – taken for granted knowledge about how to act, which is based around ‘rules’ about the right and wrong way to do things. Rules persist among large groups of people and are lodged in agents’ heads in ‘memory traces’ (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas on socialisation and the habitus).

When agents are engaged in practices they draw on resources – there are two kinds – authoritative ones (status) and allocative ones (basically money and stuff) – an agent’s capacity to carry out their practices is influenced by their access to resources (similar to Bourdieu’s ideas about ‘skilled’ players of the game).

Giddens understands social institutions (such as family, and economic arrangements) as practices which have become routinized, carried out by a majority of agents across time and space. A social institution only exists because several individuals constantly make it over and over again.

Social Structure is also only ever the outcomes of practices which have previously happened, and it makes practices possible (the duality of structure), and it is not separate from action.

For Giddens social structures do not reproduce themselves… it is always agents and their practices that reproduce structures, depending on circumstances. After all, ‘structure’ is simply made up of rules (in agents’ heads) and resources, which make action possible (Bourdieu claims it is the habitus which makes this possible). Simultaneously, practices create and recreate rules and resources. Therefor structure only exists in practices and in the memory traces in agents’ practical consciousness, and has no existence external to these.

Sources 

This post is summarized from Inglis, D (2012) – A Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.

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This entry was posted in Book summaries, Social Theory (A2) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Giddens’ Structuration Theory – A Summary

  1. Sheree Bautista says:

    What the heck
    are you talking about?

  2. Karl Thompson says:

    Congratulations, if you’re asking that question you’ve clearly understood something about structuration theory!

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