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Re-conceptualising the concept of agency in the structure and agency dialectic: habitus and the unconscious

By Sadiya Akram


While the human agent has the capacity for consciousness, intentionality and reflexivity, the same agent must also be affected by the social and political world in which she lives: herein lies the essence of the structure and agency debate. This thesis argues that while realists are in principle committed to a dialectical relationship between structure and agency, there is much dissonance between this commitment and the concepts of agency that they develop. I highlight the exclusion of the unconscious from realist notions of agency and argue that this oversight serves to unbalance the dialectic between structure and agency. The concepts of agency developed by Margaret Archer and Colin Hay are examined and, in varying degrees, both are shown to neglect the unconscious within a dialectical approach. Anthony Giddens is shown to develop a much improved concept of agency, which includes a notion of the unconscious, however, his rejection of the independent causal powers of structure and agency problematises his commitment to the dialectic. A novel approach to theorising agency is offered and draws on insights from Pierre Bourdieu and his notion of habitus. It is suggested that this re-conceptualisation will provide realist social scientist’s with a much improved ontological account of agency and a broader conception of the nature and scope of sociopolitical motivations which inform agential behaviour. A novel methodological framework for researching habitus and its unconscious platform is also explored

Topics: JA Political science (General)
Year: 2010
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