Agency: The internal split of structure

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In this article I first examine the ways in which the dual terms of structure and agency are used in sociological theories. Then, relying on Lacan's notions of split-subject, the formula of sexuation, and forms of discourses, and Laclau's theory of ideological hegemony, I argue that agency in most current sociological formulations is but a posited other of the structure that dissolves if examined closely; it is similar to the Lacanian fantasmic object. To resolve the fundamental paradoxes in structure-agency theories, I reformulate structures as paradoxical, incomplete, and contingent symbolic formations that are always partial and unstable due to their inclusion and exclusion operations. Consequently, social transformational agency consists in the structural inconsistencies that open structural gaps available to social actors. As a result, agency can be recognized in two moments conceived as two symbolic gestures. From this perspective, agency as such is always a possibility qua potential and its efficacy is always retroactively recognized-actualized from within a new social structure or symbolic order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-502
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • Actor
  • Agency
  • Structure
  • Structure-agency theories


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