Soc Lecture 11/19/2013
Structure and Agency
Social Structures: Patterned social arrangements and relationships that are produced by – but also
constrain or shape – individual actions and experiences.
Agency: The capacity for individuals or groups to act in a way that changes their circumstances
Free will vs. determinism – philosophy
Choices are limited in some ways by social structures
Reproduction and Change
Social Reproduction: Processes that perpetuate orsustain a given social structure.
Social Change: Processes that transform a given social structure.
Mechanisms of social reproduction encourage you to act out your life in certain ways that lead to stability of
Society largely stays the same
Inequalities remain persistent
One of biggest mechanisms: social institutions
Common sense in our society: if you work hard you can do what you want to do, you can change society.
We tend to emphasize the agency side of things
Individuals have the ability to make anything they wish of their lives. (They have only themselves to blame
for their failures and only themselves to congratulate for their successes.)
Individuals are embedded in complex and overlapping social structures that shape and constrain their
actions, as much as they enable them
Unit 5: Social Change
Gradual Structural Change (U.S.) Gradual Structural Change (Global)
Making Change (Social Movements)
Making Change (The Power of Sociological Reflexivity)
Think back to your own childhood, or even that of your parents: what are some of the most notable ways in
which US society has changed since then?
technology, gay marriage,
security after 9/11, degrading music, cyberbullying, divorce rate increasing
Gradual Social Change (US)
Harper and Leicht, “American Social Trends”
Eitzen, “The Atrophy of Social Life”
Society is a moving target; constantly changing
Structural Trends (Harper and Leicht – American Social Trends)
1) Growth in thescale of social life
Work in bigger corporations, travel and live across larger geographical spaces
2) Centralization of control
Growth in scale, growing concentration of power to make important decisions in the hands of fewer people