Understanding Agency: Social Theory and Responsible Action

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`Barne's work is remarkable in its attempt to transcend previously held dualisms like causal versus voluntaristic explanations, and to advance a model of social action that can contribute to a possible resolution of the problematic relation between 'structure' and 'agency'' - Debasis Giri, Contributions to Indian Sociology In this penetrating and assured book, one of the leading commentators in the field argues that social theory is moving in the wrong direction in its reflections on human freedom and autonomy. It has borrowed notions of 'agency' and 'choice' from everyday discourse, but increasingly it puts a misconceived individualistic gloss upon them. Against this, Barnes unequivocally identifies human beings as social agents in a profound sense, and emphasises the vital importance of their sociability. Notions of 'agency', 'freedom' and 'choice' have to be understood by reference to their role in communicative interaction; they are key components of the discourse through which human beings identify each other, and have effects upon each other, as social agents. These are central themes in all the social sciences. And Understanding Agency addresses them in a more focused way than any other book. It is a refreshingly different look at social theory that will be widely debated. Barnes' account is a model of well-informed and wide-ranging analysis.