structuration theory

You are here


Conceptualization of social systems (Giddens, 1984, pp 23-26) -

  • Structure(s) - the rules implicated in the production and reproduction of social systems and resources. Rules and resources, or sets of transformation relations, organized as properties of social systems.
  • Systems(s) - Reproduced relations between actors or collectivities, organized as regular social practices.
  • Structuration - Conditions governing the continuity or transmutation of structures, and therefore the reproduction of social systems.

Structure, as recursively organized sets of rules and resources, is out of time and space, save in its instantiations and co-ordination as memory traces, and is marked by an 'absence of the subject.' The social systems in which structure is recursively implicated, on the contrary, comprise the situated activities of human agents, reproduced across space and time. Analyzing the structuration of social systems means studying the modes in which such [social] systems, grounded in the knowledgeable activities of situated actors who draw upon rules and resources in the diversity of action contexts, are produced and reproduced in interactions (bold italic emphasis added).

All competent members of society are vastly skilled in the practical accomplishments of social activities and are expert 'sociologists'. The knowledge they possess is not incidental to the persistent patterning of social life but is integral to it. This stress is absolutely essential if the mistakes of functionalism and structuralism are to be avoided, mistakes which, suppressing or discounting agents' reasons - the rationalization of action as chronically involved in the structuration of social practices - look for the origins of their activities in phenomena of which these agents are ignorant. But it is equally important to avoid tumbling into the opposing error of hermeneutic approaches and of various versions of phenomenology, which tend to regard society as the plastic creation of human subjects. Each of these is an illegitimate form of reduction, deriving from a failure adequately to conceptualize the duality of structure.

According to structuration theory, the moment of the production of action is also one of reproduction in the contexts of the day-to-day enactment of social life. This is so even during the most violent upheavals or most radical forms of social change. It is not accurate to see the structural properties of social systems as 'social products' because this tends to imply that pre-constituted actors somehow come together to create them. In reproducing structural properties to repeat a phrase used earlier, agents also reproduce the conditions that make such action possible. Structure has no existence independent of the knowledge that agents have about what they do in their day-to-day activity. Human agents always know what they are doing on the level of discursive consciousness under some description.