Structuration Theory / Modernity and Self-Identity


The thrust of Anthony Giddens’ Structuration Theory is the notion of the duality of social structure. In contrast to functional and structural accounts, Giddens’ structuration theory posits that actors and society are mutually constituted. The same duality principle is manifested also in Modernity and Self-Identity, where the author reveals the dialectic relationship between self-identity and the institutions of modernity (high modernity).

While Giddens presents a novel social theory, I couldn’t help drawing parallels with the works The Social Construction of Reality and The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. For instance, the dialectic relationship between agency and structure is also one of the main threads in Berger’s and Luckmann’s book (externalization, objectivation, and internalization). A similar dialectical process between individual existence and social reality is presented too by Goffman via his dramaturgical and theatrical analogies. All of the authors deal with routinized habitual encounters as the primary manifestation of social reality.

As for the differences, Giddens’s structuration theory is “thicker” in my opinion. For one thing, it engages the psychological mechanism of reflexivity and psychological motives (ontological security and a sense of trust) to explain why social systems are produced and reproduced. For another thing, and following from the preceding point, reflexivity implies more agency than it is allowed in the other two theories. Last but not least, a contrasting difference in Giddens’ theory is that it both enables and constraints agents (though Giddens is not too eloquent about the “enable” part).

In terms of critique, Giddens’ structuration theory pays little or no attention to the subject of change and the corresponding transformation mechanisms. Change can only be deductively inferred from the notion of reflexivity (as displayed by the non-conformist school behavior in Paul Willis’ research mentioned in the book). Next, the theory’s premise is the unconscious need for ontological security. Yet it has been widely acclaimed that humans have multiple needs. A related point here is that while security is indeed one of the human needs, a reasonable amount of tension may be also necessary indispensable for well-being. Safety (stability) and quest (venturing out) are in a dialectic relationship, not in a dichotomous one.


Last words remain to be said about Modernity and Self-Identity.

The book particularly resonated with me. I see the term “post-modernity” as a better substitute for “high modernity” proposed by Anthony Giddens. Also, while the author speaks about existential anxiety, nothing is said about “existential vacuum”, a term coined by Erich Fromm to denote the loss of purpose and meaning of life in the contemporary society.

Overall, however, Anthony Giddens revealed brilliantly the intertwined nature of forging a self-identity and reproducing the institutions of high modernity. This book supports strongly the idea of agency. An individual is not just an inert agent; rather, her quest for identity and actions on a local level can potentially shape the world on a planetary scale. Although this impact is more of an unintended nature from what I inferred from the book, “life politics” is an unorthodox and perhaps a revolutionary alternative to the regular “emancipatory politics”.

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