If human motivations were constant and universal, and if the opportunity structure were entirely a product of human interaction, then all variation in human action would be determined by social structures (Powell, 2014). The relationship between a society and individual is a twisted one. Individuals are what together make the society and the society in turn is what shapes the individuals. There have been a number of debates and theories as to whether human beings are autonomous individual bodies, making one's own laws and exhibiting their own free will, or whether it is the society that gives individuals a personality, a way of life, structure. However, the fact that a society is what is actually made up of individual personalities is what brings the twist. It is like a never ending loop. Many sociologists have put forth their point of views, explaining why they think whether the case is the former or the latter.
As mentioned above, there have been a number of debates and discussions and writers penning down their personal thoughts as to why their theories are better or more correct. Over the years, both sociologists and anthropologists have been captivated by the debate; correspondingly, they have developed a myriad of theoretical perspectives which seek to address these concerns (Mellinger, 2012). Most discussions can be divided into 3 categories, the one that show structure to be more dominant, the others that feel that it is the free will of individuals that collectively shapes the society and the third that conclude that both the agency and structure are by products of each other set in a continuous loop. Below are a few of the most famous personalities who have been pioneers in their fields and have done their fair share of research regarding this debate.
Pierre Bordeaux- One of the most famous theories given by the very famous Bordeaux was that of ‘habitus’. He explains in his book called the “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” the relationship between an individual and society. He compares it almost to a set up where an individual is an agent who is set up in a field where the society acts as what would define the individual depending upon his actions. He believes that the more an agent comprehends his or her role in the society or "field", the more he becomes accustomed to certain relationships as well as expectations. These later on take the shape of an individual's personality and become his habits, thus using the word ‘habitus’. Instead of saying it one way or the other, Pierre actually came to the conclusion of discovering a new found relationship between an individual and the society.
Berger and Luckmann- Berger and Luckmann were other famous personalities, who were of the opinion that the relationship between the society and an individual is dialectic, inter dependent and a continuous, never ending loop. They coined the phrase “social construction of reality” and explain it as a theory which says that a human being’s social interaction with other human as well as his life experience are what form the basis of how the individual presents himself or herself to the society.
Anthony Giddens- Anthony is another sociologist who has moved away from the debate of agency versus structure. He believes that structure is in fact a medium as well as an outcome. He believes that society and agents are two separate entities that happen to be mutually constitutive of one another. Anthony developed the ‘structuration theory’ which acknowledges the interaction of meaning, standards and values, and power and posits a dynamic relationship between these different facets of society (Gibbs, 2017).
From the above discussion, it is quite clear that the debate between agency and structure is a complex study in addition to being a very demanding tour of different theoretical perspectives on organizations (Luckman, 2008). It is a complicated study. What is real depends on how individuals perceive as and how it gets perceived collectively by a society. While some people have been of the opinion that society is more dominant in shaping the nature, habits and personalities of individuals and society is what renders the lives of human beings with structure, others oppose this theory. Many people have been firm believers of the fact that human beings are autonomous and free agents. It is the human beings that collectively form the society and not the other way round. Therefore, it can be concluded that social relationships are densely intertwined with reasons, emotion, commitments, beliefs, and attitudes -- the aspects of consciousness that make up agency and action (Little, 2011).
Gibbs, B. J. (2017, july Beverley J. Gibbs). Structuration theory. Retrieved september 23, 2017, from ENCYCLOP?DIA BRITANNICA:
Hamson, N. (2015, april 2). Fredrik Barth: An intellectual biography. Retrieved september 20, 2017, from The Pluto Press Blog – Independent, radical publishing:
Little, D. (2011, march 19). New ideas about structure and agency. Retrieved september 24, 2017, from Understanding Society:
Luckman, P. L. (2008). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. The British Journal of Social Work , 823–824.
Mellinger, W. M. (2012, march 14). Understanding the “Structure” and the “Agency” Debate in the Social Sciences. Retrieved september 24, 2017, from Doing Modernity: Using Critical Interactionism to Study Everyday Life:
Powell, C. (2014, march 14). Structure and Agency. Retrieved september 23, 2017, from The Practical Theorist: