Structure/Agency as a dichotomy is rather confusing, please could someone give examples of both to show the clear difference in understanding?I'm doing an essay on structure and agency and how...

Structure/Agency as a dichotomy is rather confusing, please could someone give examples of both to show the clear difference in understanding?

I'm doing an essay on structure and agency and how they are used to study everday life sociologically.

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here's the difference between the two:

  • Agency says that people's behaviors come solely from their own personalities -- people have complete free will and what they do is completely their own choice.
  • By contrast, Structure says that people's choices are very limited by their society and how it is set up.

Let's think about crime, for example:

  • According to ideas of agency, crime happens because of fundamental flaws in the people who commit those crimes.  Therefore, the way to combat crime is to punish criminals.  This will deter others from acting wrongly.
  • According to the idea of structure, crime happens largely because of society.  People turn to crime because they are disadvantaged and do not have access to as many opportunities as other people.  Therefore, the solution to crime is to provide a structure that gives more opportunities to poor people.

This is, of course, a very brief discussion, but I hope it is of some help.

elskerdk | Student

I think it is also helpful to think of structure not just in contrast to agency, meaning that structure confines people's choices because of society, but to think through specifically what structure's exist in a given society.  So for example... in a western, highly industrialized democracy what society structures could potentially influence somebody's choices:

Economic structures--- economic infastructure, availability of jobs for example varies from region to region

 

Educational structures--- educational opportunity, being zoned to a school that has a reputation for excellence or being zoned to a school that has a "failing" reputation.

 

In both of these cases very real, tangible things (jobs, schools) make-up part of the structure; when you think about whether everyone one has equitable access to jobs and schools, it becomes easy to see that agency (the ability to make choices) can only explain a part of what happens to any one individual.