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Giddens, Anthony

Giddens's book, Central problems in social theory, (1979) provides reasons for reconsidering traditional social science approaches and pursuing some alternative forms of knowledge seeking. His argument is rhetorically convincing; however, methodologically vague.

Giddens (1979), a sociologist, holds the theory of structuration, as a weapon for breaking the wall between determinism (such as functionalism, structuralism, behaviorism, cognitivism, and sociobilogical approaches, see Anderson, 1996) and subjectivism (interpretive) approaches. For the former, the essence precedes the existence. For the latter, the existence precedes the essence. He proposes the revision of theory of human action and develops theory of structuration.

Some major concepts used in the theory are: action and agency; duality of structure; and socialization and institutionalization.


He starts his argument of necessity of "agent" and action study with a critique of functionalism and structuralism on one hand and interpretive and hermeneutics on the other hand. He points out that the former tends to emphasize pre-eminence of the social whole over its individual parts and the latter tends to exteriorize subjective experience over the social conventions. He argues:

The basic domain of study of the social sciences ... is neither the experience of the individual actor, nor the existence of any form of societal totality, but social practices ordered across space and time (1984, p.2).

Social practice is based on the individual's knowledgeability about how to go on in day-to-day life. Such knowledgeability is built on three levels of action-agent relationships. The individual reflexively monitors (reflexive monitoring of action) interactions with social encounters in social settings, makes sense out of the experiences (rationalization of action), and applies the them to the future interaction, which is also going to be monitored. Further, human interaction is also motivated by unacknowledged conditions of action (motivation of action), which stem from unintended consequences of action (sometimes, social settings and individuals' interaction generate triggering effects that cannot be understood by the actors themselves. Giddens refers it to unintended consequences of action and argues the consequences result in unacknowledged conditions of action) (see the figure 1).

Monitoring actions and practicing knowledgeability mainly involves agent's practical and discursive consciousness. Former refers to the consciousness which cannot be clearly articulated by the agents but is practiced in day-to-day life, while latter refers to the consciousness which can be discursively analyzed. Moreover, the agents might be unconsciously motivated by inherited personal needs.


Giddens describes the social science has been a matter of emphasis on subject (individual) and object (society). He needs to explain the object (society, the whole); but, he cannot discard the notion of action theory, which was explained the above. That is because if he does not link the two -- the individual's action and the society, he makes the same mistakes that the two academic disciplines have made. In short, Giddens' view on society should be based on the individual's (or agent's) action (the action theory).

Giddens provides the duality of structure as a solution for understanding both agents and society. Giddens refers structure to rules and resources which the agent utilizes in his or her continuous flow of action. Rules are the generalized boundaries of action in which the agents instantly employ in their interaction with others. The choices the boundary gives are not exhaustible. Rather, they are improvisation of the agent's practical knowledge.

Resources refer to the capability of the agent to generate specific patterns of social conditions and to allocate materials (authoritative and allocative resources).

Rules and resources are means which the agent draws upon in day-to-day life interaction with social encounters. However, Giddens also points out that such rules and resources are also the products of the agent's action. The duality of structure refers to this recursive influences between structures and the agent's social practices. In other words, structures are media of the agent's action, and, at the same time, are the products of action.

The change of these structures in the agents' continuous flow of action in day-to-day life refers to structuration.

The analysis framework provided by Giddens shows there are three main modalities of structuration: signification, domination, and legitimation. Then how these modalities are actually used by the agents reveals the mode of discourse and power institutions, and legal and moral institutions (see the figure 2).


System refers, according to Giddens, to the patterns of social relations across time and spaces which are produced and reproduced in the social practices. Therefore, structures involved in the agent's interaction can be revealed by examining these relations in social system; Such relations refer to structural properties. For the social system to be realized as the web of conceivable relations, individuals and groups should be integrated into the system. Giddens provides two integration schemes: social and system integration.

The former involves in patterning of individuals' relationships through face-to-face interactions. The later involves patterning of relationships between/among groups and collectivities.

Here, we can recognize Giddens' counter-balance approach against the agent's capability of "to do otherwise." Through social and system integration, the agent comes to know what are going to be reproduced and how, and might feel the imposed or given power of the society -- as if the society (the whole) rules individuals. At the same time, the moment of social changing (as the evidence of agent's capability of doing otherwise and duality of structure) comes to be realized.

Communication technology, as resources, enters into the social system and changes the social practices of maintaining relationships among individuals. For example, computer network provides convergence of time and place. People maintaining and reproducing the social system through social practices now have to deal with the structural properties and features which the computer system brought into the world. We set the rules of everyday life by using the computer system (brought to us in whatever forms) through the interaction with others in everyday life. At the same time, such rules (and resources) set the boundaries of our interaction. To make a short, we exteriorize (or alienate?) the boundaries or rules which we set up in the first place as if it has nothing to do with us; and we still change them via everyday practices with or without knowing it.

INTERACTION communication power sanction
(Modality) interpretative scheme facility norm
STRUCTURE signification domination legitimation

Figure 2. (Figure 2.5, in Giddens (1997), p.82)


Giddens, A. (1979). Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, structure and contradiction in social systems. London: Macmillan press.

Anderson, J. (1996). Communication Theory: Epistemological foundation. New York, NY: Guilford press.

-- Anonymous, September 22, 1998

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