Definition of Agency
(noun) The capacity of an individual to actively and independently choose and to affect change; free will or self-determination.
Examples of Agency
- Choosing a career.
- Groups joining a social movement.
- Picking a spouse (also called affective individualism).
- Selecting a dessert off a menu.
- Voting in free elections.
- American English – /AY-juhn-see/
- British English – /AY-juhn-see/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈeɪdʒənsi/
- British English – /ˈeɪdʒ(ə)nsi/
- Plural: agencies
- Reductively, agency can be understood as the ability to “choose and act”.
- Agency is an expression of autonomy against social institutions, structures, and cultural forces.
- Agency can impact an individual’s ability to think and speak.
- Depending on an individual’s or group’s sociodemographic background, they have more agency in the structure of society due to privilege.
- Anthony Giddens (born 1938) theorized the concept of structuration, which contends there is a constant dynamic relationship between agency (choices) and structure (chances). Giddens referred to humans as “knowledgeable agents” with the capacity to understand their circumstances and consequences of their actions, thus can possibly exercise choice.
- Typically, men have more agency than women due to structural forces. Women can exercise their agency, but it is typically more constrained.
- Older people, the disabled, and non-heterosexual people typically have less agency due to intersectional forces.
- Agency can manifest itself in various ways, such as political agency and sexual agency.
- Also called:
- free will
- human agency
- personal agency
- Word origin of “agency” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- Archer, Margaret Scotford.  2014. Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Berger, Peter, and Thomas Luckmann. 1967. The Social Construction of Reality. Garden City, NY: Anchor.
- Callinicos, Alex. 2009. Making History: Agency, Structure, and Change in Social Theory. Chicago: Haymarket.
- Friedman, Gil, and Harvey Starr. 1997. Agency, Structure and International Politics. London: Routledge.
- Giddens, Anthony. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Cambridge: Polity.
- Holmes, George. 2012. “Biodiversity for Billionaires: Capitalism, Conservation and the Role of Philanthropy in Saving/Selling Nature.” Development and Change 43(1):185–203. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7660.2011.01749.x.
- Singer, Isaac Bashevis. 1997. “Isaac Singer’s Promised City.” City Journal 7(3):88–96.
- revolutionary movement
- social change
- social movement
- symbolic interactionism
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Bell, Kenton, ed. 2016. “agency.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved January 16, 2021 (https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
agency. (2016). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2016. “agency.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed January 16, 2021. https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“agency.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2016. Web. 16 Jan. 2021. <https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/>.