In social sciences, actors are individual (people) or collective (organizations, groups, political parties, etc.) participants in social life, that interact with other actors or structures. Socially significant behavior of actors is called an "act", or "action". The capacity of individuals to act rationally and use resources to fulfill their objectives and goals is called "agency". In the next part of this article, we will present the most important views of social scientists on actors, action, and agency.
German sociologist Max Weber believed that the goal of social science is to build a network of abstract concepts and to investigate objectively existing causal relationships in individual events. Through the study of causal relationships in individual events, we can determine general social rules. The starting point for studying individual events is human "social action". Social action is any behavior that has meaning for a person who performs a social action and includes failing to perform an activity, as well as suffering from an external situation. Another condition for a behavior to be viewed as social action is that the actor must take into account the behavior of others and coordinate his social actions with it. Human social action is the only thing we can really understand because it has its objective, external side, which we can directly observe, but also because it has an internal, subjective side, which we can understand and interpret. That is why social action is the basic unit of sociological analysis.
Human social action is voluntary, however, it can be a product of conscious and intentional desire, just as it can be a product of unconscious motives. Unconscious motives are influenced by culture and tradition, as external factors, but also personal emotional states, as internal factors. Weber believes that fully conscious and intentional social action is just a borderline case and that people are much more likely to act instinctively or routinely. In that sense, every social action can be directed by several different factors: values, goals, emotions, and rationality. These factors are expressed in different proportions in any particular social action of an individual, but they are also shaped in different ways by the broader cultural and historical context of social action.
The scientific study of social action requires the application of the cognitive method of „understanding“ (verstehen). Understanding is made possible by the fact that there is an identity between the subject (researcher) and the object (individual that is studied) of cognition, and therefore understanding has a higher degree of clarity and certainty compared to other forms and methods of cognition. The identity of the subject and the object of knowledge, in essence, means that scientists, as well as people whose work is the object of the study, have similar psychology. This is what enables scientists to understand the subjective meaning that social action has for the person who performs the social action. Understanding has both an intellectual and an emotional component.
This means that we can understand the rational aspect of one's social actions, while at the same time understanding the emotional motives of that social action. Understanding social action, as a sociological method, allows us to create causal explanations of individual events. On the other hand, creating causal explanations of complex processes requires the application of a comparative-historical method, while a thought experiment, also, serves as a research aid. A special type of sociological concept, in Weber's approach, is "ideal types". Ideal types represent abstract sociological concepts that allow us to classify the subjective side of human social action (both conscious and unconscious; both rational and emotional) according to their type into different categories. Ideal types can serve hypothetical-analytical understanding, or serve descriptive and historical explanations.
Weber applies the ideal type method to classify the types of human social action. The basic types of social action are: 1) goal rational, 2) value rational, 3) affective, and 4) traditional. Goal-rational social action is aimed at choosing the most efficient means to achieve the set goals, but other possible goals are taken into account, as well as the resources that should be used to achieve the goal. Value-rational social action is aimed at achieving a goal, which is important in itself, regardless of the chances of success and resources spent because it is believed in the absolute value of that goal. Affective social action is directed by passions and emotions, so the meaning of social action is in itself, and not in achieving a specific goal. Traditional social action is completely shaped by the consistent following of established social rules, regardless of the final effect of that social action.
In the book Social Process (1918), American sociologist Charles Cooley studies how the actions of individual actors introduce social change. People direct their behaviors following generalized meanings (rules), but at the same time, they explore solutions to specific problems in a creative way. Based on past experiences, actors create new ideas and hypotheses to explore the applicability of a new way of doing things. This activity usually goes through the following process: old habit, conflict, experiment, and new habit. People use "imaginative reconstruction" and "creative synthesis" to shape new habits. By constantly finding new creative solutions, people influence social change, but also the social order. The social order is a process, not a state, and it is constantly subjected to interpretations and reconstructions of general meaning. Rational action is halfway between the rational achievement of clear goals and blind respect for social norms.
George H. Mead
In George H. Mead's theoretical approach, the most important theoretical concept is the "self". The self is partly based on human biology, but it really develops only through participation in "social acts". Social acts are those in which at least two people participate, and all social acts consist of five basic components: 1) roles, 2) attitudes, 3) significant speech, 4) attitudinal assumption, and 5) social objects. In order to perform social acts, actors must take on certain social roles, and that is why those roles form the basis of individual acts. Attitudes represent readiness, that is, the competence to perform roles. This means that each specific role is inextricably linked to the specific attitudes that enable the performance of that role. Mead uses the term "significant speech" as a synonym for language. Attitudinal assumptions are assumptions about the roles and attitudes of other people, which a person makes to be able to adjust his or her behavior within a social act in which all actors participate. Social objects represent the usual attitudes that participants take to perform a social act. All these components of the social act must be realized to achieve a "congruent plan of action " to successfully complete the social act.
In the book Phenomenology of the Social World (1967, in German 1932), Austrian sociologist Alfred Schütz states that subjective meaning grows through the unification of a constant flow of different feelings, and reactions to those feelings, into different types of experience. Through reflection, anticipation, and interpretation, actors reconstruct experiences and classify different phenomena into different types, based on their own typologies. A key aspect of our understanding, awareness, and reconstruction of experience is the temporal dimension because meaning always arises retrospectively in relation to the moment when, what is perceived, has happened. People even think of future actions as already completed activities. Subjective meaning is related to the flow of mental experience and its relationship to three time periods: 1) the vivid present - the present moment; 2); past experiences that appear as memory and recollection and 3) anticipating and imagining future states and activities. Meaning is located in specific acts of consciousness itself and the emotions associated with them.
The Life-world (Lebenswelt), a theoretical concept that Schütz took from Husserl, is one of the main ideas of Schütz's sociology. The life world represents the socio-cultural world, as it is experienced and perpetuated by the people who are in it. Individual consciousness and understanding form the basis of the actor's action within the life world (social world), and the life world itself is built through „intersubjectivity“. Intersubjectivity represents the relationship between the consciousness of a person and other persons in the present. Intersubjectivity, which consists of everyday interpersonal interaction and communication, creates a "life world". The life-world is made possible by the fact that people experience and interpret the world around them through a "natural attitude", that is, by using accumulated social and cultural patterns of meaning.
Communication is a process in which two or more subjective streams of consciousness meet and harmonize, within social interaction (Wirkungsbeziehung). Every action of a person is a sign that should be interpreted by other people, so the ultimate meaning of someone's action is shown in the reactions of other people to that action. If there is a development of established patterns for the interpretation of some type of action, then these patterns represent the basis for mutual understanding between the actors. The creation and adoption of such cultural patterns for the interpretation of action takes place in long-term and lasting interpersonal face-to-face relationships, and once adopted, knowledge of these cultural patterns becomes applicable, even in situations where the actor performs an action in a completely unknown environment, with unknown co-actors.
Schütz believes that, of all the activities of consciousness, subjective meaning springs mostly from a hypothetical formulation by which the actor himself explains, to himself, his own motives. Schütz distinguishes between two types of motifs. He calls the first type of motives " in-order-to" motives ("Um-zu" -Motiven) which, from the point of view of the actor, refer to the future, that is, to the activities that the actor wants to achieve in the future. He calls the second group of motives "because" motives ("Weil" -Motiven), this group of motives refer to the past experiences of the actors that drove him to meet his needs in a specific way. The meaning that an actor gives to his own action depends on the time distance from those activities, because the actor since the action has already ended, reacts to the changes that his action has caused in the structures of meaning.
With his approach, Schütz wanted to provide a developmental theory of human action and to create a theoretical model of the life world that would be able to encompass multiple levels of reality that are created through the process of subjective meaning and intersubjectivity. This theory of action seeks to provide answers to three key questions: 1) how is meaningfully oriented human action created?; 2) how can people understand other people ?; and 3) how is common socially valid knowledge created? In the context of such a theory of human action, the subject of sociology would be: the conscious and meaningful activities of individuals to through which they try to give meaning to reality and thus create and transform the social world (life-world).
A person's personal experience is not available to sociologists, because they cannot explain all the specifics of the process during which that person reconstructed his own experience. The social sciences can only build analytical models that use shared typologies (typologies that are common to all or a large number of actors) in order to understand the experience and motives of an actor. That method Schütz called „typification“. Schütz wanted to use the approach of methodological individualism, which takes the activities of individuals as the starting point of sociological analysis, in order to build a general theory of human action. Schütz applied the ideal-typological method used by Weber to the process of typifying subjective knowledge and life-world. He introduced a methodological postulate which he called the "postulate of adequacy". This postulate argues that scientific typologies must be constructed to fit the structure of everyday typologies. Both ordinary actors and scientists must use the same life-world typology reference system. What sets scientists apart from ordinary actors is that they do not have the same pragmatic interest as the actors. Scientists must not impose their theoretical concepts on the object of study, that is, on the life world, so they must come to knowledge by discovering already existing structures and typologies.
Talcott Parsons, in the book The Structure of Social Action (1937), introduced an anti-utilitarian „voluntaristic“ theory of action because it presents human action as an intentional construction. Parsons wants to solve the problem of social order discussed by Thomas Hobbes and begins by rejecting Hobbes' voluntarism and the idea of the social contract, emphasizing the importance of normative rules for shaping human action and creating social order. Actors constantly make conscious individual choices in their actions, but choices are limited and set by a network of social norms, which forms part of the structure of society. In line with this view of social action, Parsonson's definition of sociology is given in the same book: „(sociology is) science which attempts to develop an analytical theory of social action systems insofar as these systems can be understood in terms of the property of common-value integration”(Parsons, 1937). Parsons believes that the basic unit of study is the "unit act", which is characterized by the following criteria:
1) an individual actor who is motivated to act;
2) the goal towards which the action is directed;
3) specific "conditions of action", that is, external factors over which the actor has no control, as well as the „means“ to achieve that goal of action;
4) the situation in which the act takes place;
5) „normative orientations of action“ - norms and values that direct and limit the choice of goals and means for achieving goals.
The normative structure of society gives normative orientations of action, that is, choices between goals and means, which the actor can make in order to achieve the goal, but the reference framework of action is always subjective because it depends on the subjective actor's experience. The very fact that the actor has the freedom to choose between several goals and means, implies the possibility that the actor will make a mistake, therefore, not achieve the set goal. Actors choose goals to maximize satisfaction and minimize dissatisfaction and pain.
In the book The Social System (1951a), Parsons outlines the basics of his version of the structural-functionalist approach. He believes that there are five dichotomous pairs, which he calls "patterned variables", which allow the actor to oscillate between two poles of these pairs. These pairs are:
1) affectivity and affective neutrality;
2) self-orientation and collectivity orientation;
3) universalism and particularism;
4) ascription and achievement;
5) specificity and diffuseness.
In addition, these dichotomous pairs can be used to describe entire societies, so American society would be characterized by universalism and achievement.
Parsons uses earlier sociological division of our world into three different systems - personality, culture, and society - in order to explain social acts. Personality contains motivations, attitudes, and values that an actor has internalized, society consists of a set of positions and roles, while culture consists of values and symbols. Each of these three systems is autonomous, although there is a significant overlap of each with the other two systems. Parsons sees the social system as a system within which many individual actors strive to achieve the optimum of satisfaction, while the situations in which the action takes place are defined and mediated by a system of symbols organized by culture. The concept of "role" is the most important analytical tool because the role is the intersection of all three systems - personality, culture, and society. The social role is a set of expectations and mutual predictions of other people concerning the role holder; culture regulates the rules of role performance using common symbols and values; while the person is the one who takes over and plays social roles. Actors, as individuals, need to internalize the values that provide motivation for action that enables the successful performance of roles, which further strengthens social consensus.
Every social system, regardless of size, must meet the following requirements, that is, functional pre-requisites: 1) adaptation - adaptation to the environment by changing and controlling it; 2) goal attainment - methodical mobilization of resources to achieve specific goals; 3) integration - solidarity and survival of the cohesive whole; 4) latency / latent pattern maintenance - production, accumulation, and distribution of energy that maintains the motivation of actors, but also the stability of cultural patterns that enable reproduction of that motivation. This theoretical scheme is often abbreviated in sociology as AGIL, the first four letters of the four functional prerequisites in English.
Parsons divides the social system into four main subsystems: 1) economic system - it serves to adapt society to the environment (A); 2) political system - it works to achieve goals (G); 3) societal community - it should achieve integration (I); and 4) the fiduciary system – works to achieve the maintenance of patterns (L). The subsystem of the societal community has the most important function because this subsystem is in charge of the integration of society. Social integration is realized by creating a sense of loyalty among the actors, both towards the whole society and towards the positions and roles that the actor himself fulfills. Each of the four subsystems has its own communication medium: economic system – money; political system - power; societal community - influence; fiduciary system - values.
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is famous for his theoretical approach that introduces two key theoretical concepts: habitus and field. The term field denotes a specific semi-autonomous sphere of social life that has its own logic. Each field has its institutions, its own rules, governing values, norms of behavior, and desirable goods (physical or symbolic) to be possessed. Examples of fields are: politics, science, art, religion, education, etc. Each field has its structure, that is, a network of relationships between objective positions occupied by the individual or collective actors acting within that field. What is crucial for Bourdieu's sociology is the view that the analysis of power relations and the actions that individual and collective actors take, to increase their own power, within different fields, is key to understanding society. Each field is the scene of more or less open fighting. Actors in dominant positions will adopt defensive and conservative strategies to preserve their status, while those in lower positions will develop subversive strategies aimed at overthrowing the governing rules, while, most often, accepting the legitimacy of the field itself.
Habitus represents the mental and cognitive structure of every person, which enables people to act in society. Each person internalizes these mental structures by living in society. Habitus gives people rules for understanding, valuing, and classifying all aspects of society. On the other hand, the habitus gives people the ability to act in society, because it creates long-term predispositions to, more or less, instinctively react in a certain situation. Habitus is associated with social class, because individuals, that are in the same class, share a common culture and taste. Habitus is not adopted by simple internalization and acceptance of social norms, but cognitively, through daily action within the field. Habitus is adopted partly on a conscious level and partly on an unconscious level. Actors act pragmatically, but their goals and means, for the most part, are not determined consciously and rationally, but spring from a socially constructed "the feel for the game."
It is the concept of practice that theoretically connects habitus and field. Everyday practices of people, within some field, shapes the habitus, but, at the same time, these practices contribute to maintaining or changing the very structure and rules of a field. According to Bourdieu, practice is crucial, so he puts much more emphasis on what people really do than on what they think or say should be done. Bourdieu also uses the metaphor of game, to explain habitus and practice; where habitus would represent knowledge of the rules and "the feel for the game", while practice would represent moves that players take in the game. A very important aspect of practice is the "strategy" that actors use to achieve their goals within some field. Most strategies are not the product of conscious planning, but they are, most often, unconscious rules that enable improvisation in everyday life. Of course, such improvised strategic activities must be effective to achieve the goals.
In order to achieve their goals, that is, for their strategies to be successful, individual and collective actors use various forms of capital. There are four types of capital that can be employed within each field (although different types of capital will be more effective in different fields): symbolic capital, cultural capital, economic capital, and social capital.
In the 1980s American sociologist James Coleman began to be interested in the question of how parts of the social system work and how they form the system. He observes the individual actor as a basic part of the social system, and to explain his behavior, Coleman took over the theoretical approach of microeconomics and the rational choice theory that it developed. In his books Individual Interests and Collective Action (1986) and Fundations of Social Theory (1990b), Coleman applies the rational choice theory to the behavior of individual actors. He believes that this theoretical approach has an obvious advantage because it starts from the assumption that the behavior of actors depends on their interests and their power. On the other hand, this theory provides an excellent basis for explaining how large organizations are formed and how they operate, as well as how social exchange and collective action take place.
Coleman starts from elementary actions and relationships in order to build a macro theory. Actors have interests and they control some of the resources they use to pursue those interests. Some resources and events, however, are completely under someone else's control. To achieve interests, actors exchange control over resources and events that are less important to them, to gain control over things that are more important to them. At the middle level, which takes place between the activities of individual actors and macro structures, there are structures that mediate individual activities, the most important of which are: the system of authority, the system of trust, networks, norms, and organizations.
In the book, Determinism and Human Freedom (in French 1955) French sociologist Georges Gurvitch studied the freedom of the social actors. He believed that the issue of freedom, as an opportunity to question the existing situation and to act in order to implement change, is crucial for sociology. He singled out six levels of freedom: 1) arbitrary liberty - the choice of subjective unconscious preferences; 2) innovative freedom - a careful choice between alternatives; 3) liberty choice – choosing between multiple options when faced with negative influences; 4) innovative liberty devises new alternative courses of action; 5) decisive liberty - action aimed at overcoming or annulling the existing situation by removing all obstacles; 6) creative liberty - the constant creation of new forms of art or knowledge, this freedom represents the deepest level of freedom.
Every level of freedom is met with opposition from others to make a change to the existing situation, but freedom is, precisely, the social force that reduces deterministic relations in society. Freedom means that total social phenomena are in a constant state of structuration and destructuration. Both individual and collective social actors can have freedom. The goal of Gurvitch's theoretical approach - hyper-empiricism - is to explore all possible manifestations of collective and individual freedom.
French sociologist Raymond Boudon was one of the main proponents of methodological individualism. According to Boudon, the focus of sociology should be the structure of the system of interaction. The basic atom of sociological analysis is the individual actor who operates within the wider social and institutional environment. Individual actors are not just people, but every collective unit that has the power of collective action. Although one part of the actions of the actors is based on the coercion of external elements, which that actor must accept as given, his behavior is not only a consequence of that coercion.
The relationship of causality between the system of interaction and the behavior of an individual can be understood only if the behavior is viewed as a purposeful action. In this sense, Boudon develops a utilitarian conception of action. However, his understanding of the rationality of the actors is limited. Sociology should abandon the vision of homo economicus because the behavior of individuals is never directed by perfect utilitarian rationality. The behavior of homo sociologicus, which is the counterpart of homo economicus, is also shaped by internalized habits and values. Although people act within social roles, they always retain some room for maneuvering. Besides, the rationality of people is never perfect. All this leads him to the conclusion that sociology should focus on the intentions of the actor, and not attribute perfect rationality to him.
German sociologist Jürgen Habermas elaborated his theoretical approach in the book The Theory of Communicative Action (1984, in German 1981). Habermas introduces a distinction between two basic aspects of any society - "lifeworld" and "system". The lifeworld is a theoretical concept introduced to sociological theory by Alfred Schütz. The lifeworld is an area where symbolic communication takes place, or, as Habermas calls it, "communicative action", between people. Culture, personalities, meanings, and symbols are the basis of communication, that is, communicative action. Within the lifeworld, actors (people) strive to achieve a common understanding. That common understanding is a product, but also the direction of communication and practical activities of people. The realm of the lifeworld is the focus of Alfred Schütz's phenomenology and George Herbert Mead's symbolic interactionism, and it is precisely these theoretical approaches that Habermas uses to study this realm.
On the other hand, the "system" represents a completely different analytical level. In Habermas's terminology, "system" means what functionalism and systems theory call the social system. The system understood in this way has its own structure, and each part of that structure has the function of achieving a harmonious integration of the entire system. The integration of the system is achieved through the instrumental rationality of the actors. If we applied the terminology of Max Weber to Habermas's theory, then the integration of lifeworld would be achieved through the „value rational action“ of actors, and the integration of the system through the „goal rational action“ of actors. The lifeworld consists of societies, cultures, and personalities.
Communicative action achieves the reproduction of the lifeworld by maintaining culture, integrating society, and forming individual personalities. Communicative action contains both cognitive and normative elements, because knowledge and understanding between speakers are achieved through it, and social norms are also established. The communicative action should provide answers to the four most important questions: 1) what is understandable; 2) what is true; 3) what is right (in the ethical and moral sense); 4) whether the speaker really believes in what he is saying.
German sociologist Elias Norbert created a new theoretical approach that is called "Process sociology" or "Figurational sociology". The basic premise of process sociology is an attempt to overcome the dualism and antagonism that exists between individuals and society in sociological thought. All people are part of the relationship of interdependence, that is, "figuration" in Elias's terminology. These figurations are in the process of constant emergence and cannot be reduced to the motivations or activities of individual actors. The figurations are constantly changing, and their long-term development is mostly unplanned. The figurations shape the development and life path of each individual. Figurations are processes that create „interweaving” of individuals, that is, they create multiple connections and interrelations between people. Figures do not act as external structures that shape individual behavior, instead, open and interdependent individuals, and their relationships, create figurations. Power relations are central to the development of figurations, and power within figurations lies in the constant swaying around the equilibrium. The figurations work on both the macro and micro levels and encompass every social phenomenon. What connects different figurations are “chains of interdependence”, although individual figurations can be distant and isolated, there is always a connection between them, and that connection is achieved through various chains of interdependence.
Elias believes that sociology is dominated by the idea of what he calls homo clausus, by which he means the idea of closed and isolated individuals. Elias opposes this view, and he states that all people are open, and constantly connected to other people through complex relationships. In this way, Elias strives to overcome the shortcomings of, on the one hand, methodological individualism, and, on the other hand, the shortcomings of sociological macro theories that emphasize the importance of macrostructures. Each actor is part of a complex network of interrelations (figurations), but at the same time, each actor constantly changes figurations through his actions.
Instead of structures that act as external forces that direct the behavior of individuals, figurations, which are in a constant process of change, create networks of interdependence that shape the consciousness and activities of individuals, but these figurations are in a constant state of change due to actors. Elias emphasizes that the way in which figurations will develop, most often, is not a product of the targeted activity of actors, but a product of spontaneous development, which is not predictable. The goal of process sociology is to discover the sequential order of development of figurations throughout history.
British sociologist Anthony Giddens is famous for his theoretical appraoch he named the structuration theory. The structuration theory lies in the middle between two opposing sociological ontologies - individualism and collectivism. According to the individualistic approach, society and its characteristics are the product of the actions of actors who act freely, because they have the ability to understand themselves, society, and their own position in society. Actors pursue their own goals and based on that, they can direct or reshape the society in which they live. Structuration theory rejects the extreme views of both approaches, but at the same time incorporates the best aspects of both approaches. The essential difference between a collectivist and an individualist approach can be reduced to the contrast between emphasizing the importance of structure (collectivist approach) and actors (individualist approach). The main goal of Giddens' structuration theory is to overcome this, in his opinion, the apparent dualism between the actions of actors (agency) and structures.
Giddens proposes a reformulation of the lexicon of sociological concepts. In approaches such as Marxism and functionalism, the notion of structure refers to established patterns of social relations that deterministically affect actors, as an external and limiting force that shapes their behavior. Giddens proposes a very different conception of structure. He believes that structure should be understood as abstract models that exist as "virtual" because they exist "outside of time and space" and are "subject-less" and represent, most often, unconscious products of the reproduction of human practice. This view of structure corresponds to the way language is viewed in Lévi-Strauss structuralism. The product of this view of the structure is what Giddens calls the "duality of structure." The structure no longer acts only as something external and limiting, but also gives active and acting potential to the actors. The structure provides rules (syntax) by which actors direct their activities, but, on the other hand, it gives them the freedom to act. In that sense, the structure is, at the same time, a medium, but also a product of action. It is this duality of structure that forms the basis of the process of structuration.
Structures have rules, which can be more or less formal, explicit, and strict, but always serve as practical knowledge that governs behavior. Structures also serve as “resources” that allow actors to manage other people. Giddens divides rules and resources into four main types: 1) performative rules - instructions for performing routine behavior; 2) normative rules - rules that regulate correct behaviors, i.e. routines, in specific situations; 3) authoritative resources - properties and manner of using the capacity to control other actors; 4) allocative resources - allocation of material resources among activities and people. Giddens singles out three types of structures: 1) structures of domination and power, 2) structures of signification and knowledge, and 3) structures of legitimation. The difference between these three types of structure is only analytical because all three types of structure work in every practical activity.
Giddens also gives a new view of the actions of actors (agency). Similar to the individualistic approach, Giddens believes that actors act freely, have the ability to understand themselves, society, and their position in it, strive to achieve their own goals and are therefore able to direct or reshape the society in which they live. He adapts the scheme of dividing the personality into three parts by dividing the actor's consciousness into three aspects: 1) discursive consciousness, 2) practical consciousness, and 3) unconscious. Three psychic mechanisms are active in the action of the actors: reflexive monitoring, rationalization, and motivation. Practical consciousness and rationalization represent common knowledge that allows actors to act, in a rules-limited, social life. Analysis of practical consciousness is most important for understanding the structuration process.
Actors acquire knowledge of the rules through previous activities, and apply these rules in new situations, but, at the same time, they react in a reflexive way to the specific circumstances of each situation. That reflexive reaction is the core of Giddens's concept of “reflexivity”. Actors are free in their actions, but they generally follow the rules to avoid ontological uncertainty. Ontological security is the product of the unconscious part of human consciousness, and it represents a state in which the actors feel calm and secure while performing activities, and the state of greatest security is achieved when the activity is performed routinely. As soon as the actors become unable to carry out routine activities, they feel the psychological effects of anomie and thus tend to create new routines, which are adapted to the changed circumstances. Routine behavior gives individuals ontological security, but also rules for everyday social life. Discursive consciousness is the ability of actors to express and explain in words their own knowledge of the structure and its rules and resources. Actors always have an unconscious and practical consciousness of routine activities, but often do not have a discursive consciousness of these activities, that is, they are not able to interpret and explain to themselves and others the rules of the structure that manages routine activities.
Giddens views both the structures and actions of actors as two sides of the same coin, which are connected through social practices. For that reason, structuration theory starts from the basic assumption that social practices are the basis of all the most important social phenomena. Long-term reproduction of similar forms of practice leads to the creation of stable patterns of events and lasting collectives that retain their structural features in the long run. When there is a transformation of social practices, then there is the establishment of new patterns of events and enduring collectives. Except in periods of great social transformation, most social practices routinely take place. Routine behavior occurs within "circuits of reproduction", which can take place within interpersonal encounters or through distance communication, through space and time. Communication through spatial and temporal distance is the basis of Giddens' concept of "time-space distanciation" of social systems.
French sociologist Bruno Latour is known for developing his theoretical approach known as Actor-network theory. In Latour's theory networks are not the same as social structures in other sociological theories. Networks are stable and broad macro phenomena, but they differ from structures in their process character. While structures represent stable relationships between elements, networks, according to Latour, represent a semiotic product of the daily actions of actors. Actors (or "actants" in Latour's terminology), on the other hand, are not just people, but an amalgam of textual, conceptual, social, and technical actors. Precisely because of the focus on actors and the networks they create, Latour called his theoretical approach "actor-network theory". Actor-network theory, which represents both a theoretical approach and a research method, studies how networks grow, overcome difficulties, and become stable over time; how networks organize their elements and how they direct the behavior of actors by creating stable roles; and how networks become functionally necessary for actors.
The theoretical approach of critical realism states that society consists of an enduring set of structures that are positioned in complex stratified relations. Those structures and their relations are not constant, as they are continually changing, either by being reproduced or inadvertently or consciously changed. social structures are real and possess causal power, but those powers practically and conceptually function differently than in natural sciences. The structure has power because they create relational authority and rules that guide the actions of individuals, and that action creates further consequences and outcomes. In that sense, the actions of individuals are influenced by relational authority and rules that structures create, but those actions are also personalized by individual goals, and also depersonalized because they create indiscriminate effects for individuals. That is why both structures and actions of an individual can not be only reduced to actors' perception or experience of events or interactions. Proponents of critical realism see it as the best solution to the problem of the relationship between actors and structures in sociological theory. According to Margaret Archer, the actors can be both individuals and large organizations, such as trade unions.
In the analysis of the relationship between the actors and the system, French sociologist Michel Crozier proposes three starting postulates. The first is that people are not always rational, they often do not have precise goals, as well as detailed plans. People accept what gives them a sufficient level of satisfaction. The second postulate is that the actor always has a certain freedom in relation to the organization. An actor can influence other people if he controls some source of system insecurity. The third postulate is that rational strategies for achieving goals can be applied only when there is a relatively stable mechanism of "play", and the actor has the power within that system of action.
Other Approaches on Actors and their Agency
American sociologist Everett Hughes' theoretical approach, which he called "interpretive institutional ecology" combines the human ecology of the Park with the structural functionalism of Radcliffe-Brown and Durkheim, the formalism of Simmel, and the symbolic interactionism of William Thomas and Cooley. The micro-sociological aspect of Hughes' theory studies how intelligent and reflective actors (individual selves) adapt to external circumstances. They do this by constantly actively redefining situations, meanings, roles, and careers. The sum of these individual adjustments leads to institutional change. Hughes' microsociology was influenced by Cooley's view of the institutionalized and social nature of the self, Thomas' concept of " definition of the situation " and Simmel's understanding of social interaction as a process. Hughes sees actors as free to create their own social reality, but they are limited by external influences that are either unknown to them or they are no table to change them. On the other hand, not all people have the same power to define the situation, because there are individual differences in power and knowledge. A third factor that restricts people's freedom to define their situations is the limited number of culturally available norms and roles.
Polish sociologist Florian Znaniecki, in the book Cultural Reality (1919), states that sociology is a science whose subject are systems of social action. His theory of action is aimed at understanding social dynamics and change, mostly in the context of the culture and creativity of the actors. In his book An Introduction to Sociology (in Polish 1922), Znaniecki formulates the concept of the "humanistic coefficient" which means the experiential and value meaning of cultural information. Culture consists of values, which is the main fact that distinguishes it from nature. The systems of social action are directed towards the individual and collective cultural values of the actors themselves. The values related to society are the most complex and variable. His "culturalist" approach to sociology and his concept of the humanistic coefficient require that different societies be viewed in the context of their specific cultures and historical experiences. In the same book, he explores how systems of action build more complex dynamic systems, such as social roles, social relations, and social groups.
In Max Weber's footsteps, German sociologist Karl Mannheim continued to study rationality, so he introduced the difference between “substantial rationality” and “functional rationality”. Substantial rationality is more phenomenological and it represents an understanding of the interdependence of factors in a particular situation, so this kind of rationality is a source of creativity and originality. Substantial irrationality represents the absence of substantive rationality and is characterized by impulsive and emotional responses to a specific situation. Functional rationality is more empirical and it enables people to achieve, a pre-set goal, in an efficient way. Functional irrationality encompasses any action that prevents the practical achievement of a goal.
In Cooperation Without Trust (2005), American sociologist and psychologist Karen Cook discusses how trust between actors affects the "power-dependence relations" (Emerson) that exist between them. She believes that the relations of social exchange (in marriage, at work, or in friendly relations) contain mutual dependence, which can be defined as a relationship of "encapsulated interest". The notion of encapsulated interests refers to the trust that one actor (individual or collective) places in another actor because he (or she or them) believes that the other actor accepts the interests of the first actor and unites those interests with his own interests. Cook believes that if there is unequal power in a relationship, it is difficult to develop trust because the relative power of the actors will affect the way they experience the relationship. This theoretical approach to the relationship of power and trust can be applied to individuals, as well as to relations between organizations or between states.
For Anselm Strauss's symbolic interactionism, it is crucial to understand the meaning that actors attach to themselves and their actions. In his essay Mirrors and Masks: The Search for Identity (1959), Strauss views identity as a way in which individuals organize ideas and theoretical insights into social processes and their symbolic meaning. Language has a dominant role in building a person's individual and social identities and in shaping their behavior. Language enables individuals to understand and evaluate their own selves, other people, objects, and events, and to position themselves in society, all of which allow them to direct their own behavior. Strauss applied symbolic interactionism to the Meso-level of society, primarily to organizations and institutions.
In the books Sociology of Action (in French 1964) and The Self-Production of Society (1977, in French 1973), French sociologist Alain Touraine presents the theory of action, which emphasizes the system of collective actors who shape their actions through cultural orientations and clearly defined intentions, within broader social relations. He rejects the importance of metasocial factors, such as the role of history in Marxism, for the study of society. He introduces the term "historicity" to explain how society influences its own social and cultural practices. Historicity consists of three elements: 1) the mode of knowledge that gives a picture of society, 2) methods to decide how to invest accumulated economic surpluses into noneconomic ventures 3) the cultural model that refers to the ability of society to act only on itself and achieve social transformation.
Talcott Parsons was Harold Garfinkel's professor and Parsons' book The Structure of Social Action influenced the further development of Garfinkel's approach. Garfinkel radicalized Parsons' theories of action. According to Garfinkel, the social order is not a simple product of socialization, because the actors are active and reflective about the norms, and create values and meanings in creative ways. The choice of goals, made by the actors, is based on the empirical everyday knowledge available to them. Garfinkel believes that the sociological theory of action must include the actor's own view of an activity. Individuals are constantly striving to establish new rules, when they are in a situation, and ethnomethodology should reveal these implicit rules and the planned nature of everyday life. The actors, while acting, pay attention to the other actors and plan the next moves. If the situation does not go according to their plan, then they strive to repair the damage and restore normalcy. Society consists of reflective social activities that contain a variety of meanings.
British sociologist Bryan Turner developed his sociological approach based on the sociology of action. The two main categories of his approach are "emplacement" - the relationship of people to the environment and "embodiment" - the relationship to one's own body, and they are universal categories of human experience. emplacement and embodiment are shaped by a network of social institutions that regulate normative coercion. Emphasis is placed on the situational (historical and comparative) nature of the actions of social actors. Turner believes that sociology should study society, in the way that Durkheim did, that is, as a set of "social facts" that act as external forces that limit the behavior of the individual. On the other hand, actors have the opportunity to question the coercive nature of these external normative and coercive factors (social facts). In this context, he believes that sociology must be a reflective, but also value-neutral science.
American sociologist David Willer presents a detailed elaboration of his approach to sociology in the form of "elementary theory" in his book Networks, Exchanges and Coercion (1981). At the micro level, there are systems of normatively controlled social exchange, while at the macro level, there are structures of economic exchange and coercion. The actors are guided by strategic rationality, and in their actions, they take into account the expected behaviors of others. The values that these actors have are a reflection of the social structures and relationships within which actors operate.
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Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977)
Coleman, James. Individual Interests and Collective Action (1986);
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Garfinkel. Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967);
Giddens. The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (1984);
Gurvitch. Déterminismes sociaux et liberté humaine (1955);
Habermas. The Theory of Communicative Action (1985);
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Latour. Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (1979);
Mead. Mind, Self, and Society (1934);
Parsons. The Structure of Social Action (1937);
Ritzer. Sociology: A Multiple Paradigm Science (1975);
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Strauss. Negotiations: Varieties, Contexts, and Social Order (1978);
Willer. Systematic Empiricism: Critique of a Pseudoscience (1973);
Zelizer. Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States (1979).