Theprincipal objective of a theory is to reasonably explain a specific reality.
Many sociological theories have been proposed to provide frameworks withinwhich assorted social phenomena can be understood and explained. Lord AnthonyGiddens is a British sociologist who is best known for his theory onstructuration. The term structuration refers to the set of conditions on whichdepend not only the continuity or change of the rules and the constitutiveresources of a social structure but also the reproduction of the social systems(Segre, 2014, p. 114).
Giddens theory of structuration refers to theinteraction of meaning, as well as power, standards, and values and therelationship and how it suggests a relationship between them in regards tosociety. The theory of structuration in a sense primarily deals with thecreation as well as reproduction of social systems. This leads to the notion on the basic premiseof Giddens’ theory of structuration and provides different ways in whichGiddens and Weber explain social action, as well as suggests possibleimprovements on Giddens’ theory.
Giddens’structuration theory is can be considered an attempt, just like the one done byPierre Bourdieu, to reconcile the paradigmatic gulfs of social systems. Suchgulfs of social systems include subject/structure, subjective/objective as wellas micro/macro perspectives. In light of this, Giddens’ theory neither focuseson the individual agent nor on the society in general however, it pertains tothe “social practices ordered across space and time” (Giddens, 1984, p. 2).
Ingeneral, proponents of the structuration theory embrace this seemingly balancedposition in their endeavor to treat the various influences of structure andagency equally. In Giddens concept of structuration, one can assert thatstructures are upheld and adapted via the exercise of agency, just as theautonomy of an individual is constantly under the influence of structure.Therefore, “structuration” is the junction at which a social actor encountersstructure. Thestructuration theory by Giddens seemingly seeks to understand human behaviorwithin the social context by resolving the conflicting views underlyingstructure-agency as well as macro-micro perspectives. This objective can beaccomplished by studying and examining the processes that occur at the pointwhere the social actor meets the structure. It could be said that his theoryappreciates that structure even though agency paradigms are not sufficient ontheir own to explain social action.
With that being said, Giddens’structuration theory recognizes social actors operate within a framework ofrules that social structures generate, and structures are only reinforced bythe actors operating in a compliant manner. This implies that social structureslack intrinsic stability outside of human action seeing as they are necessarilysocially constructed. Nonetheless, “agents do alter social structures by actingfree from the constraints of the social structures, particularly by exercisingreflexivity,” (Serge, 2014, p. 117). Centralto Giddens’ theory, therefore, are the concepts of structure, system, as wellas the duality of structure. This meansstructures are the properties that make it practicable for noticeably similarsocial practices to be present across both time and space, which gives themsystemic form. The properties referredto here are rules and resources. While rules stand for the patterns that may befollowed by people in their social lives, resources represent what human actioncreates.
This leads to the assumption that Giddens ascribes a virtual existenceto structures, meaning that they neither exist in time nor in space. Instead,social phenomena can potentially become structured. According to the socialphenomena, structure gives social life the appropriate form and shape.
Socialsystem represents a set of duplicated social practices or relations amongvarious actors or collectivities. The patterns of social practices or relationsthat characterize social systems exist over time, with the fluctuatingcharacter of time and space determining social relations’ interactions andhence structure. By differentiating structure from system, Giddens stressesthat systems lack structures but rather they display structural properties(Giddens, 1984). Aclose examination of Giddens’ and Weber’s works reveals that the two theoristshave adopted varying approaches in explaining social action. In studying socialaction as well as social interactions, social theorists have generally tendedto embrace two differing approaches- action and praxis.
While the formerstresses a particular action’s subjective import to the actor, the latterstresses enactment of social action, its performance, or production. Giddensembraces a praxis approach, whereby he explains social action as entailingenacted conduct, social practices, and reproduction of practices. In thisapproach to social action, Giddens includes an assessment of materialconditions within the contexts, situations, and places in which the socialinteractions take place. Besides, itincludes an assessment of the social as well as the material environment thatfacilitates or hinders social action. Giddens emphasizes space and time and forhim praxis is locally set and it is where social interaction takes place seeingas actors are located there (Cohen, 2000, p.
74). UnlikeGiddens, Weber adopts an action approach in his efforts to explain socialaction. In his social action theory, Weber rectifies the over-emphasis thatfunctionalists like Giddens place on structure.
This he achieves by redirectingattention to the necessity of understanding and appreciating the subjectivemeaning of actors, an essential requirement if at all sociologists are toexplain individuals’ actions adequately. For him, sociologists must seek tounderstand an act’s meaning in far as the motives behind it are concerned byputting themselves in the shoes of actor whose actions are to be explained.Actors’ desire to survive impels social action. Through social action, actorsget the opportunity to live according to their beliefs as well as values.Weber’s theory is anchored on the analysis of rationality of assorted types ofaction. Accordingly, it is possible to differentiate between several sets ofactions depending on the sort of rationality underlying them (Ransome, 2010, p.119). Accordingto Giddens, practices take place continuously and enduringly such that familialsystems as well as structures are socially reproduced.
As a result, socialaction, alongside social interaction, translates into “institutions of routine”and generates familiar social life forms. This way; Giddens finds the means to integrate larger systems andinstitutions, which human beings are part of, with human social action. Thus,constant replication of social action leads to larger social forms, meaningthat structure is well within social action and not outside it. Structurationhence allows for flexibility, creativity as well as changes in action at theindividual and group levels. In summary, Giddens adopts a praxis approach tosocial action by stressing steady patterns of enacted behavior by activepersons who interact in varied situations and environments involving diverseinfluences that entail both habit and patterns. However, this does not exclude reflectionsas well as conscious decision-making (Cohen, 2000, p. 94). Weber’stheory is ‘micro’ bottom up in nature and emphasizes individuals’ interactionsand actions.
Generally, just like other social action theories, it views peopleas being endowed with free will to choose their course of behavior. Therefore,society does not determine individuals’ actions. Rather, individuals shape thesociety via their choices. In light of this, Weber sees social action asleading to the creation of social organizations, particularly bureaucraticorganizations. For him, bureaucratic organizations represent the dominantsocial institutions. They are made up of individuals who engage in rationalsocial actions with the aim of realizing certain bureaucratic goals. In thisregard, modern societies are the product of rational social action and aretherefore going through the process of rationalization.