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Anthony Giddens “Central Problems in Social Theory”

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Giddens, Anthony 1994 [1979]. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure nad Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press.

 

Sturcturalism and the Theory of the Subject

[…] structuralism may be most cogently defined as the application of linguistic models influenced by structural linguistics to the explication of social and cultural phenomena. (9)

The separation of langue from parole, Saussure held, differentiates both ’what is social from what is individual’, and ’what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental’. (10)

[…] terms only acquire identity or continuity in so far as they are differentiated from one another as oppositions or differences within the totality that is langue. (12)

Time is thus not, as is sometimes suggested, absent from Saussurian linguistics. […] Saussure did not so much eliminate time from his theory, as distinguish radically between two forms of temporality: that which is involved in the syntagmatic order of language, and thus is the very condition of synchrony, and that which is involved in the evolution of features of langue. […] Diachrony operates on the level of the event, of the modifications in language brought about through speaking. (13)

The basic inadequacy can be simply stated: Saussure did not show what mediates between the systematic, non-contingent, social character of langue on the one hand, and the specific, contingent and individual character of parole on the other. What is missing is a theory of the competent speaker or language-user. (17)

The recursive character of language – and, by generalisation, of social systems also – cannot be understood unless we also understand that the means whereby such systems are reproduced, and thus exist as systems, contain within them the seeds of change. ’Rule-governed creativity’ is not merely […] the employment of fixed, given rules whereby new sentences are generated; it is at the same time the medium whereby those rules are reproduced and hence in principle modified. (18)

The activity of human subjects is ’individual’ and ’contingent’, as compared to the supra-individual character of the collective, represented by myth. […] Structuralist thought has no mode of coping with what I shall call practical consciousness – non-discursive, but not unconscious, knowledge of social institutions – as involved in social reproduction. (24)

In Lévi-Strauss […] The subject is recovered in the analysis only as a set of structural transformations, not as an historically located actor. (29)

Derrida’s work can thus be seen as giving a new impetus to Saussure’s formalism at the same time as it disavows the connection of that formalism with langue and synchrony: substance, or the ’concrete’, is repudiated both on the plane of the sign (rejection of the ’transcendental signified’), and on that of the referent (an objectively given world that can be ’captured’ by the concept). For each of these, which may be said to approximate respectively to idealism and positivism, Derrida substitutes the productivity of chains of signification. (30-31)

’Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use’ does not imply that meaning and use are synonymous, but that the sense of linguistic items can only be sought in the practices which they express and in which they are expressed. (38)

Genetic sociological fallacy: […] to assume that, because the subject, and self-consciousness, are constituted through a process of development – and thus that the reflexive actor is not a ’given’ either to philosophy or to social science – they are merely epiphenomena of hidden structures. (40)

Social practices from this standpoint do not ’express’ the intentions of social actors; nor on the other hand do they ’determine’ them. Intentions are only constituted within the reflexive monitoring of action, which however in turn only operates in conjunction with unacknowledge conditions and outcomes of action. (41-42)

The production of a text, like the production of a social practice, is not the outcome of an ’intention’, or an ’aggregate of intentions’. Rather, the intentional character of the activities concerned has to be treated as a chronic feature of the reflexive monitoring of action. A text is therefore not to be regarded as a ’fixed form’, which is then somehow related en bloc to particular intentions; it should be studied as the concrete medium and outcome of a process of production, reflexively monitored by its author or reader. (43)

An author is neither a bundle of intentions, nor on the other hand a series of ’traces’ somehow deposited within the text. Foucault says that writing ’is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears’. But to study the production of the text is at the same time in a definite sense to study the production of its author. The author is not simply ’subject’ and the text ’object’; the ’author’ helps constitute him- or herself through the text, via the very process of production of that text. (43-44)

The pressing task facing social theory today is not to further the conceptual elimination of the subject, but on the contrary to promote a recovery of the subject without lapsing into subjectivism. Such a recovery, I wish to argue, involves a grasp of ’what cannot be said’ (or thought) as practice. (44)

[…] structuralist theory offers the possibility […] of formulating a more satisfactory understanding of the social totality than that offered by its leading rival, functionalism. According to the latter, society may be portrayed as a pattern of relations between ’parts’ (individuals, groups, institutions). Saussure’s structural linguistics, by contrast, suggests the notion that society, like language, should be regarded as a ’virtual system’ with recursive proterties. (47)

 

Agency, Structure

[…] while both systems of thought are concerned to overcome the subject-object dualism – Parsons via the action frame of reference and Althusser through his ’theoretical anti-humanism’ – each reaches a position in which subject is controlled by object. (52)

Marx writes in the Grundrisse that every social item ’that has a fixed form’ appears as merely ’a vanishing moment’ in the movement of society. ’The conditions and objectifications of the process’, he continues, ’are themselves equally moments of it, and its only subjects are individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships, which they equally reproduce and produce anew …’ These comments express exactly the standpoint I wish to elaborate in this paper. (53)

[…] in social theory, the notions of action and structure presuppose each other […] (53)

Social acitivty is always constituted in three intersecting moments of difference: temporally, paradigmatically (invoking structure which is present only in its instantiation) and spatially. All social practices are situated acitivities in each of these senses. (54)

’Action’ or agency, as I use it, thus does not refer to a series of discrete acts combined together, but to a continuous flow of conduct. (55)

[…] ’intentionality’ as process. Such intentionality is a routine feature of human conduct, and does not imply that actors have definite goals consciously held in mind during the course of their acitvities. (56)

The rationalisation of action, as a chronic feature of daily conduct, is a normal characteristic of the behaviour of competent social agents, and is indeed the main basis upon which their ’competence’ is adjudged by others. (57)

The unintended consequences of action are of central importance to social theory in so far as they are systematically incorporated within the process of reproduction of institutions. […] the unintended consequences of conduct relate directly to its unacknowledged conditions as specified by a theory of motivation. For in so far as such unintended consequences are involved in social reproduction, they become conditions of action also. (59)

As I shall employ it, ’structure’ refers to ’structural property’, or more exactly, to ’structuring property’, structuring properties providing the ’binding’ of time and space in social systems. (64)

It is fundamental to understand that, when I speak of structure as rules and resources, I do not imply that we can profitably study either rules or resources as aggregates of isolated precepts or capabilities. […] (a) There is not a singular relation between ’an acitvity’ and ’a rule’ […] Acitivities or practices are brought into being in the context of overlapping and connected sets of rules, given coherence by their involvement in the constitution of social systems in the movement of time. (b) Rules cannot be exhaustively described or analysed in terms of their own content, as prescriptions, prohibitions, etc.: precisely because, aprat from those circumstances where a relevant lexicon exists, rules and practices only exists in conjunction with one another. (65)

Structures are necessarily (logically) properties of systems or collectivies, and are characterised by the ’absence of a subject’. To study the structuration of a social system is to study the ways in which that system, via the application of generative rules and resources, and in the context of unintende outcomes, is produced and reproduced in interaction. (66)

The concept of structuration involves that of the duality of structure, which relates to the fundamentally recursive character of social life, and expresses the mutual dependence of structure and agency. By the duality of structure I mean that the structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems. (69)

The duality of structure relates the smallest item of day-to-day behaviour to attributes of far more inclusive social systems: when I utter a grammatical English sentence in a casual conversation, I contribute to the reproduction of the English language as a whole. (77)

Power is expressed in the capabilities of actors to make certain ’accounts count’ and to enact or resist sanctioning processes; but these capabilities draw upon modes of domination structured into social systems. (83)

As in the case of the other modalities of structuration, power can be related to interaction in a dual sense: as involved institutionally in processes of interaction, and as used to accomplish outcomes in strategic conduct. (88)

Action involves intervention in events in the world, thus producing definite outcomes, with intended action being one category of an agent’s doings or his refraining. Power as transformative capacity can then be taken to refer to agents’ capabilities of reaching such outcomes. (88)

[…] power must be treated in the context of the duality of structure: if the resources which the existence of domination implies and the exercise of power draws upon, are seen to be at the same time structural components of social systems. The exercise of power is not a type of act; rather power is instantiated in action, as a regular and routine phenomenon. It is mistaken moreover to treat power itself as a resource as many theorists of power do. Resources are the media through which power is exercised […] (91)

Social systems are constituted as regularised practices: power within social systems can thus be treated as involving reproduced relations of autonomy and dependence in social interaction. Power relations therefore are always two-way, even if the power of one actor or party in a social relation is minimal compared to another. Power relations are relations of autonomy and dependence, but even the most autonomous agent is in some degree dependent, and the most dependent actor or party in a relationship retains some autonomy. (93)

Social systems are produced as transactions between agents, and can be analysed as such on the level of strategic conduct. This is ’methodological’ in the sense that institutional analysis is bracketed, although structural elements necessarily enter into the characterisation of action, as modalities dwarn upon to produce interaction. (95)

Institutional analysis, on the other hand, brackets action, concentrating upon modalities as the media of the reproduction of social systems. But this is also purely a methodological bracketing, which is no more defensible than the first if we neglect the essential importance of the conception of the duality of structure. (95)

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