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Understanding Agency
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Understanding Agency
Social Theory and Responsible Action



November 1999 | 176 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
`Barne's work is remarkable in its attempt to transcend previously held dualisms like causal versus voluntaristic explanations, and to advance a model of social action that can contribute to a possible resolution of the problematic relation between 'structure' and 'agency'' - Debasis Giri, Contributions to Indian Sociology

In this penetrating and assured book, one of the leading commentators in the field argues that social theory is moving in the wrong direction in its reflections on human freedom and autonomy. It has borrowed notions of 'agency' and 'choice' from everyday discourse, but increasingly it puts a misconceived individualistic gloss upon them. Against this, Barnes unequivocally identifies human beings as social agents in a profound sense, and emphasises the vital importance of their sociability. Notions of 'agency', 'freedom' and 'choice' have to be understood by reference to their role in communicative interaction; they are key components of the discourse through which human beings identify each other, and have effects upon each other, as social agents.

These are central themes in all the social sciences. And Understanding Agency addresses them in a more focused way than any other book. It is a refreshingly different look at social theory that will be widely debated. Barnes' account is a model of well-informed and wide-ranging analysis.

 
PART ONE: MATERIALS AND ARGUMENTS
 
Everyday Discourse
 
`Choice' and `Agency' in Social Theory
 
A Brief Digression on Attribution
 
On Individualism in Social Theory
 
Transcending Individualism
 
PART TWO: SPECULATIONS AND EVALUATIONS
 
`Agency' and `Responsibility' in Sociological Theory
 
Agency, Responsibility and New Human Biotechnologies
 
Rational Agents in Differentiated Societies
 
On the Fine Line between State and Status

`Barne's work is remarkable in its attempt to transcend previously held dualisms like causal versus voluntaristic explanations, and to advance a model of social action that can contribute to a possible resolution of the problematic relation between 'structure' and 'agency'' - Debasis Giri, Contributions to Indian Sociology

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