Structure and agency and the sticky problem of culture

Sociological Theory 12 (1):57-72 (1994)
The concept of social structure is crucial in social analysis, yet sociologists' use of the term is often ambiguous and misleading. Contributing to the ambiguity is a tendency to imply the meaning of "social structure" either by opposing it to agency or by contrasting it to culture, thus reducing "structure" to pure constraint and suggesting that "culture" is not structured. Even more damaging is the tendency to conflate these two contrasts. To add to the confusion, these contrasts are often mapped inappropriately onto other dichotomies prevalent in social theorizing, including material versus ideal, external versus internal, static versus active, and objective versus subjective, to produce a conceptual prism in which structure, agency, and culture are all poorly understood. This article attempts to disentangle these concepts from the aforementioned system of contrasts, to specify the connections between structure and agency, and to make a case for the inclusion of culture in the sociological conception of social structure
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