McAnulla Structure - Agency_copy
The Structure-Agen Structure-Agency cy Debate Debate and its Historiographical Utility
Stuart McAnulla University of Birmingham ‘The Utility of Structure, Agency and Discourse as Analytical Concepts’ Abstract In recent years a growing number of writers have ha ve highlighted the question of the relationship between between structure and agency. agency. This paper aims to examine key problems problems in conceptualis conceptualising ing this relationship . In particular, it is argued that the existing literature pays insufficient attention to discursive discursive and ideational ideational factors factors in explaining political political change. I suggest suggest that an adequate model of social and political political transformation transformation requires requires an understandin understanding g of the temporal temporal interplay interplay between structure, agency and discourse. Quotation ‘ For it is part and parcel of daily experience to feel both free and enchained, capable of shaping our own future and yet confronted confronted by towering, towering, seemingly impersonal impersonal constraints. Consequently Consequently in facing up to the problem of structure and agency social theorists are not just addressing crucial technical problems in the study of society, they are also confronting the most pressing social problem of the human condition.’ condition. ’ 1
Introduction Over a number of years various prominent social scientists have suggested that the ‘Structure-Agency’ ‘Structure-Agency’ question is the most important theoretical issue within the human sciences sciences (Carlsnaes (Carlsnaes 1992; Giddens 1984; 1984; Archer Archer 1995). This debate debate has been slower to make an impact impact on political science than on some other social science disciplines. Yet recently a number of political scientists have argued that structure-agency questions should be recognised recognised as central to the way we study politics (Hay 1995; Marsh 1995; Bulpitt 1996). The phrase ‘structure-agency’ is commonly used by authors to denote a meta-theoretical debate about social science explanation (Ritzer 1992). ‘Structure’ and ‘Agency’ ‘Agency’ are the main terms used by modern writers, however it is worth pointing out that the same debate, or very similar, has gone on for many decades (indeed arguably centuries) in the form of a variety of dualisms which have varied according to the particular social science discipline or the philosophical stance of particular authors. For example, example, within Marxism the debate has tended to be couched in terms of voluntarism-determinism. Other commonly used dualisms include Micro-Macro, Individualism-Collectivism, Individualism-Collectivism, Subjectivism-Objectivism Subjectivism-Objectivism and Holism-Individualism. Each of at least overlaps with the dualism we understand today as structure and agency. Three intellectual developments developments help explain why attention has increasingly been placed on structure-agency issues. They also demonstrate why such issues ought to be at the centre of political science explanation. The post-war demise of positivism. positivism. Positivist based approaches and methods have received sustained intellectual critique. Few now believe that there are ‘hard’ facts. facts. This has highlighted the need to relate political pol itical action to social and •
structural conditions. (Although of course a number of positivist rooted approaches to studying politics have survived at a practical level long after they are sustained by any plausible intellectual justification). The continuing ‘crisis’ of Marxism. Over a long period, arguably lasting much of this century, Marxism has been transformed as a result of responding to charges of determinism, economism and teleogism. This has led to various attempts to relate the role of ideas, contingency and agency to social structures in a non-deterministic way. •
A response to the onslaught of postmodernism. Despite being a very influential intellectual ‘movement’ many have sought to reject a number of the central ideas associated with postmodernism. For some its focus on notions of contingency, anti-essentialim and ‘text’ serve to eliminate a proper consideration of the way in which material conditions structure social life. Others point to postmodernism’s downplaying of the individual actor, in the so called ‘death of the subject’. Thus, there is a percieved need to assert both the existence of structure and agency and their utility as analytical concepts in the face of so many postmodern denials. •
Even leaving aside such intellectual developments it can be argued that there is no ‘escape’ from issues of structure-agency. Hay (1995) argues: ‘Every time we construct, however tentatively, a notion of social, political or economic causality we appeal, whether explicitly or (more likely) implicitly, to ideas about structure and agency.’2 This article seeks to critique the contemporary literature on structure and agency with a number of key issues in mind: (i) The ontological and epistemological status of ‘structure’ and ‘agency’; (ii) The need to model the relationship between structure and agency, in particular the pursuit of ‘dialectical’ models; (iii) How to account for the relationship between the ideat- ional and discursive to structure-agency questions; (iv) How we can explain political transformations over time through looking at the interplay between of ‘structure’, ‘agency’ and ‘discourse’. Most contemporary work on structure and agency is motivated by the need to somehow avoid falling into one of two theoretical camps; Structuralism or Intentionalism. Within Structuralism structures are given primacy and agency is seen as an effect of structure rather than a causal affect in its own right. Such ‘Structuralist’ oriented positions explain political change by examining the development and interaction of structures. Agency is thus reduced to the status of an epiphenomenon. In contrast intentionalist or agency centred accounts give explanatory primacy to agency. ‘Intentionalist accounts’, most notably some forms of rational choice theory, argue that structures only exist as an effect or aggregation of individual actions. As a result, they are accorded no independent causal powers. The explanatory focus thus is on agency, with structure this time reduced to the status of an epiphenomenon. The Structuralist-Intentionalist debate thus precludes any attempt to attribute strong causal powers to structure and agency coterminously.
Linking structure and agency: coins and change The main aim of recent writing has been to try to incorporate considerations of structure and agency into explanations of social change without falling into this tendency to give explanatory primacy to one phenomena or the other. Giddens, for example, came to reflect on this whole issue because of his frustration with the tendency of much social science to locate itself on one either side, or the other of this basic dualism Therefore, Giddens in the form of what he calls ‘Structuration’ theory, has set out to try and transcend the dualism of structure and agency. His basic argument is that, rather than representing different phenomena, they are mutually dependent and internally related. Structure only exists through agency and agents have ‘rules and resources’ between them which will facillitate or constrain their actions. These actions,can lead, in turn, to the reconstitution of the structure, defined as rules and resources, which will, in turn, affect future action. Thus, we have a close interelationship between structure and agency. Gidden’s metaphor for this is that rather than being distinct phenomena structure and agency are in fact two sides of the same coin . As such,we have a conception of the mutual constitution of structure and agency. As Taylor (1993) argues, this conception is the most distinctive feature of ‘Structuration’ theory, yet a feature which serves crucially to undermine the theory as a whole.3 There are a number of criticisms of Giddens attempt to transcend the traditional dualism. A principal criticism is that in his own work Giddens adopts agency centred analysis for the main part, with separate structural or systems based analysis in other work.(See Hay 1995 for a critical discussion of Giddens structure/system distinction) Giddens justifies this in terms of methodological bracketing. This is supported by the idea t hat while structure and agency consitute the same coin they are opposite sides of the coin in the sense that we can only ever see one side of the coin at a time. The problem here I think is that this justification for methodological bracketing serves to obscure the fact that structure and agency are in real senses independent of each other and cannot, I would argue, be elided or conflated in the manner Giddens suggests. In addition, Giddens’ insistence on the mutual constitution of structure and agency means that he is unable, within his own work, to give any sense of the practical interaction or dialectic between structure and agency. A key criticism of Giddens which is made by writers such as Thrift, Stones (1991) and Hay (1995) is that Giddens provides too restricted a notion of structure. Hay, for instance, argues that Giddens uses sleight of hand in defining structure within narrow terms. Certainly, I think there are problems with Giddens conceptualisation of structure, for example in his book The Constitution of Society (1979) he argues that ‘structure has no existence independent of the knowledge that agents have about what they do in their day to day activity’. This is a problematic statement because many people would argue that t he powers and tendencies of structures can exist independently of whether or not actors have an awareness of them. Related to these points, Stones makes some general criticisms of the structuration approach and argues that to be be useful in practical social research Giddens position should be supplemented by what he calls strategic context analysis. This approach requires is that when studying a particular area the researcher must look at the overlying context ie specific conditions relating to a particular area of political behaviour. In part, this involves looking at the structural boundaries to the context in which action takes place. Yet, Stones argues that another crucial dimension to consider is
the hermenuetical context of social action. Interestingly, Stones illustrates this by looking at the recent changes within society in Patriarchal structures. He asks why it is that feminist advance within the Conservative party was so limited at a time when women successfully challenged and reformed structural barriers to women’s public participation elsewhere in society. Stones argues that no analysis of this issue would be useful without a study of the particular context of female participation within Conservative party circles. So, Stones points to the discursive environment within which female Conservative party members act; in particular, the terms in which female and male roles were discursively distinguished. The language and ideas within this context made the notion of women as candidates or leaders considerably more problematic within the Conservative Party than within other discursive settings of society.4 The approach Stones adopts here borrows very much from discourse analytical methodology. Of course, discourse analysis is a quite distinctive approach to studying poltical phenomena. Stones does not really acknowledge his borrowing of these methods which is unfortunate as it means he declines to examine to what extent the concepts and ontologies deployed in discourse theory are compatible with the philosophical groundings of the structure-agency debate. However, I think Stones illuminates a significant deficit in Giddens basic position . Indeed, this criticism may be extrapolated from, and aimed at, the more general literature on structure and agency. An alternative attempt to overcome the dualism of structure and agency is found in the ‘strategic relational approach’ initially introduced by Bob Jessop but also developed by Colin Hay. This approach also argues for a dialectical understanding of the relationship between structure and agency. The authors attempt to conceive of structure and agency within a critical realist epistemology. The emphasis in this position is on the notion that layers of structure act to condition agency and define the range of strategies which might be deployed by agents in the attempt to realise their intentions. One useful way to compare this position with that of Giddens i s to return to the analogy of the coin . Hay argues that, structure and agency, rather than being conceptualised as two sides of the same coin, should be thought of as two metals which contribute to the alloy from which the coin is moulded. (Hay 1995) Hay’s analogy is an improvement because it does not directly conflate the two as Giddens’ approach does. However, Hay develops the point to argue that, as with the alloy of a coin, we cannot actually see either metal, or structure or agency but only their fusion.Hay counterposes this view to Giddens notion that it is only possible to see one side of the coin , structure or agency, at a time. I think Hay’s approach is problematic in two senses. Firstly, we need to remember that the object of the exercise is to explain social change; that is to attribute causation, and this I think is what Giddens recognises in his analogy. Hay is right to say that in practical life we will always see the product of structure and agency. However, if we are to try to explain events I think Giddens is right that we can only see one side of the coin at a time; this results from our own perceptual limitations when we trying to interpret phenomena . As structure and agency are in many senses incommensurable phenomena (that is, they exert different types of properties and powers) I think that analytical dualism is perhaps inevitable. (In this sense the notion of an alloy isn’t particuarly useful as the very process of interpreting and understanding a given situation leads us to separate out different elements of social reality.) This is in fact what Hay and Jessop do in putting forward the strategic relational
approach. The key idea here is that action only takes place within a pre-existing structured context which is strategically selective, that is, it favours certain strategies over others. Thus, again the structures both enable and constrain. Actors are reflexive, and formulate strategies on the basis of partial knowledge of the structures. The strategies which individuals or groups adopt will yield effects; some of these may be intended but there will nearly always also be unintended consequences. This model has a number of strengths, not least because it goes much further towards conceptualising the interplay of structure and agency without reducing one to the other or eliding the two together. It can also be usefully operationalised despite being still somewhat underdeveloped. In particular, there is the outstanding issue of how the actors have knowledge, or rather partial knowledge, of the structural context. Actors refection on particular conditions will crucially depend on their understanding , construction and interpretation of a given context. Thus, if we are going properly to consider the strategic context of action we need not only a review of the relevant structural conditioning but also a review of the particular discursive context. As it stands, the strategic- relational approach, at least as handled by Jessop, appears ambigious on the question of ideation. It makes no consistent attempt theoretically to seperate the material and the ideational and consequently can say little about their inter-relationship. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, work which overtly studies the role of the ideational or discursive tends to be found within more specialist theoretical literatures. Thus, in order to relate such work to the structure-agency question, we need to engage with that literature, at least initially, on its own terms.
The postmodern turn: much ado about discourse Most work on discourse theory is written from the epistemological stance associated with postmodernism. Certainly, discourse analysis has its roots in this relatively recent social science tradition. In particular, discourse analysis can be seen as strongly derivative of the practice of ‘deconstruction’. As a starting point, it is worth considering what the postmodernist view of the structure-agency debate might be. As far as I’m aware, no-one has specifically addressed this question. However, I think the postmodernist, or post-structuralist view on such matters is clear. For the poststructuralist, the ‘structure-agency’ debate can be seen as a classic example of all that he or she thinks has been wrong with most Western philosophy . The poststructuralist sees traditional Western philosophy as being built around a whole range of dualisms, or what some call binary oppositions. These dualisms or binary oppositions form the basis of epistemological and metaphysical terminology; they work by classifying and organising objects events and relations of the wo rld, establishing a conceptual order. Structure and agency then are just one example of binary opposition to place alongside other philosophical dualisms such as mind-body, essence-appearance, prescence-abscence, concious-unconcious etc. Binary oppositions operate in using a pair of contrasted terms each of which depends on the other for its meaning. As such, they are governed by the either/or distinction. At this point, I think it is worth saying that, whatever one thinks of the post-structuralist position more generally, this analysis is useful in explaining why it is that we have had a history in social science of a division into two mutually hostile camps. People have often had the expectation of providing, or the ambition to provide, ultimate explanation, to try to expose the origins of particular phenomena. This has frequently been done through
the use of the binary opposition of structure and agency, or of some variation of this. The binary opposition works in explanation through the priveliging of one side of the opposition. It makes one side a positive term through subordinating the other term by showing that it is deficient, corrupt or merely derivative of the first term. Of course, it is always possible to overturn a binary opposition by giving priority to the other term and systematically suppressing or excluding the first. It is this procedure of priveliging one side of such an opposition, making it the centre of explanation, that has, in the poststructuralist view, dominated social science thinking and led it down a blind alley of trying to establish ultimate origins, essences or foundations of social reality. The poststructuralist urges us not to go down this road but rather to accept the idea that we cannot establish decidable categories and, as such, to embrace notions such as undecidablity or indeterminacy. Discourse analysis may be seen as an attempt to establish broad methods for social analysis, predicated upon an acceptance of the idea of anti- essentialism and indeterminacy. In its broadest sense ‘discourse’ tends to mean anything written said or communicated using signs. The term is probably most associated with Foucault who argued that in any era discourses operate with dominant ideas which claim to constitute knowledge and define power relations in society. Perhaps more immediately influential however, at least within British political science, is the work of Laclau & Mouffe; particuarly in their 1985 book ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.’ They build upon the anti-essentialist notion that there is never any absolute fixing of meaning; rather the task is to study how social practices and ideas come to acquire meaning. It is through ‘discourse’ that people understand their positions in life and shape society and political activity. Thus, the notion of discourse embraces much more than merely language, linguistics or mental representation. ‘Discourse’, as used by Laclau & Mouffe, denotes a dissolution of the distinction between the realm of ideas and the world of real objects and practical activity. All objects and practices are seen as discursive; they only accquire meaning through their articulation in particular discourse. Thus, identity and meaning are seen as inescapably relational entities; we are only able to explain and understand a political process if we can describe the discourse within which it is occuring. Arguably, even notions such as ‘humanity’, fundamental to the foundations of much social science, are seen as merely historically contingent concepts. Foucault, for example, speculated that ‘Man’ is an ‘invention of a comparatively recent date’ no more than ‘a figure drawn in the sand at the ocean’s edge, soon to be erased by the incoming tide’.5
In a sense then, Laclau & Mouffe can claim to have transcended or outflanked traditional notions of structure and agency through the use of the overarching category of discourse. ‘Structure’ in this framework exists only tendentially; a product of a relatively successful discursive articulation which leaves meaning partially fixed or sedimented for a certain period of time. There is no ‘agency’ as traditionally understood as identities are based on social antagonisms which are decentred. Antagonisms are unavoidable precisely because identities can never be entirely fixed and it is these antagonisms which are the basis of politics. For Laclau & Mouffe ‘society’ and the ‘state’ are impossible as they can never be self-closed or self-identical; every social identity is constituted through a difference from which it can never fully distance itself. ‘Society’ or the ‘state’ only exist in the sense of a partial totalization, achieved through hegemonic discourse which establishes its frontiers by constructing a chain of equivalences which distiguishes that outside the hegemonic formation as its ‘other’. The Laclau & Mouffe approach is very useful in that it enables us to study political processes with a clear focus upon the logics of language, ideas, meanings and their transformations. Because of the emphasis on undecidability and the role of contingency, discourse analysis becomes a useful tool in explaining political change. For example I think people can appreciate the use of discursive strategy during the Thatcher Governments and their attempts to gain hegemony around the articulation of concepts like ‘choice’,’individualism’, ‘the market’, ‘the consumer’ etc. Of particular theoretical use is the notion of identity as being constituted through excluding or marginalising others. The Thatcher Governments’ contrasted the ‘consumer’ with the ‘bureaucrat’, promoted the ‘market’ throught the delegitimation of the ‘state’, the ‘individual’ was given priority against the ‘other’ of the collective. I would argue that one of the reasons that the Conservative party was so successful in the 1980’s was through the use of binary oppositions, or what Derrida calls the ‘play of opposites’. Therefore, it is clear that a discourse based analysis can be very productive, at least in interrogating aspects of political phenomena. The key question however is to what extent we are willing to accept the epistemological stance adopted by advocates of such an approach. Despite Howarth’s argument (1996), I think the approach of Laclau & Mouffe is inescapably relativist. Howarth argues the approach may be understood as realist because the authors seem to accept, as a realist would, a real world external to thought. The problem is that, within their own framework, such a principle has little theoretical significance as they are unable to say anything about that which which exists outside thought. Objects cannot be understood in any way other than through their discursive articulation; unless they are discursively articulated then one simply cannot say anything about them. Discourse analysis difficulties here are derive largely from a criticism which can be levelled at poststructuralism more generally. It is possible, for example, to go along with the poststructuralists’ basic epistemological scepticism; to argue that claims to knowledge always involve arbitrariness and contingency – and that there is no priveleged epistemlogical site from which knowledge can be constructed. However, we need not agree with Laclau & Mouffe that discursive articulation is the primary consideration at an ontological level. They may be seen as guilty of collapsing their ontology into their epistemological position by ruling out the possibility that we can inquire about objects which are not directly accessible to knowledge. Jessop, for example, argues that, if the only properties which entities have are the product of discursive practice, then you would surely be able discursively to turn base metal into gold, or else convince those
laughing at the emperors new clothes that he really was wearing them.(Jessop 1990) Similarly then, we should not let an acknowledgement of the importance of the discursive presentation of social phenomena lead us to conclude that the same phenomena do not have properties, powers and liabilities which can have a powerful influence on social life in non-discursive roles. If we accept that social entities do have properties or causal powers independent o f discursive articulation then notions of structure and agency become useful again. Structures for example,can exist as more than merely sedimented discourses; they may exert powerful influence without their existence neccessarily being discursively acknowleged by actors. Actors and agents exist as more than mere ‘nodal points’ of decentred discourses; they have their own emergent causal powers. Therefore, I would argue that we need to resist Laclau & Mouffe’s initial step of dissolving the distinction between the ideational and the material, since, in the end, it produces a form of conflationary theorising just as flawed as that of the intentionalist or structuralist. In the case of discourse anaysis the material is ultimately the poor relation of the ideational. Rather, we need to acknowledge the stratified nature of social reality and that structure, agency, and discourse constitute different levels of this reality; the task now is to conduct analysis of each of the three broad levels and, most importantly, to theorise the interaction between these three levels.
Critical realism and the morphogenetic approach In my view Margaret Archer’s work on structure and agency offers the most developed, and most convincing, position within the literature to date. (Archer 1995) To a large extent this seeks to build upon the philosophcal work of Roy Bhaskar who is well known for promoting the position known as trancendental or critical realism. Archer seeks to use Bhaskar’s ‘Transformational Model of Social Action’ to build an understanding of the interplay between structure and agency. She is critical of Giddens conflationary approach and is insistent that a realist approach must be committed to understanding social reality as ontologically stratified. Thus, we need an analytical distinction between structure and agency. In her view, they are irreducible to one another and are seperable by definition because of the properties and powers which are unique to each, and because their emergence from one another justifies their differentiation. In particular crucially, structure and agency work across different tracts of the time dimension; they are temporally seperable. Thus, the model incorporates time as a theoretical variable in it’s own right, rather than merely as a medium through which events take place. Structure, it is argued, neccessarily predates agency, and elaborations of structure necessarily post-date these actions. Archer argues: ‘structures, as emergent entities are not only irreducible to people they pre-exist them, and people are not puppets of structures because they have their own emergent properties which mean they either reproduce or transform social structures rather than create them’. The task then is to look at how we can mark the process of interplay between structure and agency, whilst holding to the need for analytical dualism. Archer proposes a basic model of social acttion which she calls the morphogenetic cycle. This is a three part cycle of change over time consisting of:
Figure 1 A Three Part Cycle of Change Structural Conditioning (T1) Social Interaction (T2) Structural Elaboration (T3) Definitions structural conditioning = systematic properties or aggregate consequences of past actions which shape social situations and endow people with interests. Action will always be pre-dated by forms of social conditioning; social interaction = interaction in which agents whilst socially conditioned also express their own irreducible emergent powers relating to intentionality, rationality personal psychology, conciousness or unconciousness. These powers mean that, whilst agents are socially conditioned they are never determined; structural elaboration = elaboration which modifies structural properties in part in line with the intention of actors but in large part in the form of unintended consequences emerging from conflict and concession between different groups. Agency then does not not create structure, but only transforms (or reproduces) it in any ‘generation’. T3 of any cycle marks the beginning of another similar cycle with social interaction now conditioned by a modified structural context. However, Archer points out that the stage T3 may very well not be one of structural elaboration but, rather, social reproduction; since, as we know, many social contexts are characterised more by stability than change. 6
Perhaps the key strength of Archer’s morphogenetic model as against Structuration theory, or the even strategic relational approach, is the clearly defined and critical role it gives to the ideational aspects of social life. This is done through placing ‘culture’ alongside structure and agency as a key meta-theoretical concept. Taylor argues that the word culture ‘is used for a hopeless variety of things’.7 Indeed Archer herself argues that the concept has displayed the weakest analytical development of any key concept in social theory. As such, because of the deep ambiguity around the use of the term ‘culture’ that I believe that it is more helpful to discuss the ideational in terms of ‘discourse’ (though this term has of course it’s own definitional problems outlined above). However, Archer’s own discussion of culture is extremely helpful in both reviewing and theoretically defining the role of the ideational in social theory. Archer argues that the relationship between culture and agency is similar to that between structure and agency. Yet, while the former relationship may be analytically similar to the latter they are ontologically different relationships. To conflate culture and structure would be to conflate the material with the ideational. Thus, culture and structure should be conceived as relatively autonomous. Existing theories of the role of the cultural tend, Archer argues to conflate culture and agency in manners similar to the way in which the structralist or intentionalist reductively conflate structure and agency. For example, some Neo-Marxists have espoused the ‘dominant-ideology’ thesis. In this view cultural systems are the manipulated product of ruling class actors who have both
the power and coherence of ideas to penetrate and shape the ideas of society as a whole. Such a view serves to reduce the production of dominant cultures to the class-based agency of certain groups.(Similar in a sense to intentionalism) Conversly, other writers (for example, Levi-Strauss) point to the way in which Cultures have an internal systemic unity; they work according to a ‘code’. In order to communicate, actors must use the code and, thus, can make no contribution to altering the code itself ( similar then to structuralism). Thus Archer argues: ‘the status of culture ossilates between that of a supremely independent variable, the superordinate power in society....to the opposite extreme where it is reduced to mere epiphenomenon (charged only with providing an ideational representation of structure)’. 8 Such sins of conflation may be avoided, it is argued, if one conceives of the dialectical interaction between culture and agency over time, mirroring the relationship between structure and agency. Thus, Archer proposes a similar morphogenetic sequence: Figure 2 An Alternative Three Part Cycle of Change Cultural Conditioning (T1) Socio-cultural Interaction (T2) Cultural Interaction (T3) As such, the outstanding question becomes: can we move from a consideration of the two respective dialectics of structure-agency and culture-agency towards a unified theoretical model which also looks at the interaction of structural and cultural factors. Archer argues that this occurs at T2 in each basic morphogenetic sequence. In the phase of social interaction agents face the conditioning influences of both structure and culture. Unfortunately, Archer’s basic morphogenetic model does not effectively capture the inter-relationship of the structural and the ideational. Whilst the basic morphogenetic cycle accords importance to the temporal relationship of structure (or culture) and agency, it does not account for the temporal relationship of the structural and the ideational. In order to establish theoretical unity we require a basic model which maps the relationship of all three key strata both temporally and quantitatively. Crucially, this involves looking at how the structural and ideational interpenetrate.
Modelling social and political transformation Building upon Archer’s original model in view of the above points I believe we can conceive of a macro-morphogenetic model as in Figure 3 on the next page. Once again we begin the cycle by considering the structural conditioning of social action. Beginning the analytical cycle at this point, emphasises that political action always takes place within a material objectivity. I would argue that discursive conditioning of action should be thought of as post-dating structural conditioning since actors must somehow construe or interpret material circumstances. Their knowledge or construction of the structural context will be mediated through a discursive heritage. Yet, discursive conditions endow actors not only with a certain (most likely limited) understanding of their structural conditions, but are also crucial in their own right. This
reflects the existence of what Giddens calls the double hermeneutic; people have ideas about the world, and those ideas are also part of that world. Thus, I believe it is important to assert unambigously that the ideational is part of the real . Figure 3 A Combined Three Part Cycle of Change Structural Conditioning (T1) Discursive Shaping (T2) Social Interaction (T3) Discursive Reshaping (T4) Structural Elaboration (T5) We can conceive of discourse as, in a sense, the move in between structure and agency. Social interaction will (in the circumstance of political transformation) initially transform firstly the discursive context,as actors discursively articulate proposed changes in particular social conditions. Subsequently, the structural context will be altered in both intended and unintended ways as a consequence of social interaction. In any particular cycle it is important to remember that contexts may be reproduced rather than transformed. Within this model it is also quite possible that, while social interaction may transform the discursive context, the structural context may, in fact, be reproduced according to the particular success and failures of t he strategies adopted by actors.
Conclusion In conclusion then, I would argue that explanation in political science has suffered through a variety of errors of ontological and explanatory conflation. Whilst structuralism and intentionalism have long been declared guilty in this respect, we should perhaps also consider the ‘central’ conflation of Giddens and the idealist reductionism of Laclau & Mouffe as being equally culpable in this respect. The traditional dualism of structure and agency should however be displaced, not through the post-structuralist challenge as such, but through a recognition of the need to assert the relative independence of structure, agency and discourse as distinct levels of s tratified social reality. In particular, this involves clearly establishing that the ideational is both relatively autonomous from both structure and agency, and causally effacious in it’s own right. Through an investigation of the interplay of these three social strata over time, we may avoid frequently repeated errors in our explanations of political change.
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M.S.Archer, Culture and Agency: the place of culture in social theory (1988) Cambridge University Press, revised edition 1996, p.xii.
C.Hay, ‘Structure and Agency’, in D.Marsh & G.Stoker (eds), Theory and Methods in Political Science, Macmillan, 1995, p.189.
M.Taylor, ‘Structure, Culture, and Action in The Explanation of Social Change, in W.J.Booth et al (eds), Politics and Rationality, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p .124.
R.Stones, ‘Strategic Context Analysis: A New Research Strategy For Structuration Theory’, Sociology, 25/4, 1991, p.685.
M.Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of The Human Sciences, Tavistock, 1970, p.387.
Archer calls this ‘morphostasis’.
M.Taylor, ‘Structure, Culture, and Action in The Explanation of Social Change’, in W.J.Booth et al (eds), Politics and Rationality, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p .110.
M.S.Archer, Culture and Agency: the place of culture in social theory (1988), Cambridge University Press, revised edition 1996, p.1.