Vaughn Tan
Structure, agency
A central debate in sociology
Do individuals get to affect the context they exist
in OR do the contexts determine the individuals
OR both?
A theory of structure (Sewell/Swidler)
› (Mis)conceptions of structure
› Structure [n] deterministically structures [v]
› No room for agency (Sewell)
› Fixed, immutable, unchanging (Sewell)
› The goal
› Connect agency and structure
› Introduce change into structure
› Connect material and cultural concepts of
Agency (Giddens)
Structure (Giddens)
Knowledge and memory
Recurrence and mobilisation
Capabilities and presuppositions
Rules in context, without a subject
Structure | System | Structuration
Resources (Sewell)
“Resources are anything that can serve as a
source of power in social interactions” (Sewell 9)
Schemas: ways of using resources.
Resources: things that are used by schemas.
Structure both
Provides resources and rules for action
And is reconstituted through this action
“Those who in a largely unquestioning way
accept certain dominant perspectives may be
more imprisoned within them than others are,
even though these perspectives help the
former to sustain their position of dominance”
(Giddens, 239).
Fields as collections of positions
Social space as a space of differences defined
by the distributions of economic and cultural
Dispositions do these things
Guide decisions about which positions to take
Inform action in the taking of those positions
Generate distinct and distinctive practices
Account for style unities in individual and group
“what the worker eats, and especially the way
he eats it, the sport he practices and the way
he practices it, his political opinions and the
way he expresses them are systematically
different from the industrial owner’s
corresponding activities” (Bourdieu 272).
› Constituted in practice, oriented to practical
functions (277).
› Durable, transposable, structured, structuring
(278), taken for granted (281).
› Virtues made of necessity (279).
› Products of history and producers of
practices (279) and
thoughts/perceptions/actions (280).
› Limits the inappropriate (280).
› Material conditions produce habitus through
probabilistic access and exposure to stimuli,
or what Bourdieu calls “statistical
commonality” (285).
› Produce objective meaning without subjective
intention (286).
Normalcy v1
You wake up in the morning and decide that you
want some cereal. You walk to the kitchen and pull
out your box of Trader Joe’s O’s and pour yourself a
bowlful. Then you shower, put on your Walmart
uniform, and take the bus to work. Today is payday
and you know that you’ll have to pay rent, but you
did a lot of overtime this month so there will be a bit
left over. Awesome! Your pal Mort gets off his
assembly line job around 9pm, and you’re going to
blow the extra on a couple of beers at the local bar.
Normalcy v2
You wake up in the morning and decide that you
want some cereal. But you’ve woken up on your
private jet, so the cabin attendant brings you some
Bircher muesli. You shower on the jet, put on your
bespoke suit, and hop in the car waiting on the
tarmac. Off to sell another company! Afterwards,
you call up your college buddy, the son of the Aga
Khan. He lives in Zurich but will hop in a chopper
and meet you in Geneva after his Pilates class.
Awesome! There’s a nice place you both really like
in Geneva where they make great Chasselas and
The types of capital
› Accumulated labor
› More types
› cultural (243)
› social (248)
› Costly conversion
› “every type of capital is reducible in the last
analysis to economic capital” (253).
› labor-time required for conversion.
› riskiness, difficulty of transmission (254).
Change we can believe in
› Multiple structures
› Transposability of schemas
› Unpredictable resource accumulation (and
› Different types of resources
› Intersecting structures
Agency revisited
› Intentions, creative action (Sewell 20)
› Differing degrees and types of ability to
change the world.
› Different positions/histories give different
people different schemas and different
resources (21)
“Strategies of action are cultural products …
which provide resources for constructing
strategies of action. When we notice cultural
differences we recognize that people do not all
go about their business in the same ways; how
they approach life is shaped by their culture”
(Swidler 284).
› Unit acts vs strategies of action (Swidler 276)
› Strategies of action = broader concept than
Bourdieu’s habitus, analogous to assemblages of
schemas (Sewell)
› Culture as toolkits for strategies for action
› Culture as model of and model for experience
› Settled vs unsettled lives; existing vs new
strategies for action; taken-for-granted vs selfconscious (279)
› A topic is not a phenomenon
› A phenomenon must be clear and specific
› Contains three things. What are they?
Argument (includes brief description of
Plan of paper (how the argument will be made)
Evidence that will be used
› An argument is not
› a fact
› an opinion
› How do you check if you have a real
› plausible counterargument
How to write this paper
1. Find your phenomenon. Make it something you
might have fun writing about. Sociology is
2. Sit down with a sheet of paper and choose three
theorists, then write down
› which parts of their theory are applicable to the
› what they would say about the phenomenon.
3. Write your thesis. You may run it by me by email.
4. Write the essay.

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