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
Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill, and Bryan Turner. 2006. The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. 5th ed. London: Penguin.
Agger, Ben. 2004. The Virtual Self: A Contemporary Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 5th ed. 2011. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Bilton, Tony, Kevin Bonnett, Pip Jones, David Skinner, Michelle Stanworth, and Andrew Webster. 1996. Introductory Sociology. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan.
Boudon, Raymond, and François Bourricaud. 1989. A Critical Dictionary of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bruce, Steve, and Steven Yearley. 2006. The SAGE Dictionary of Sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Collins English Dictionary: Complete and Unabridged. 6th ed. 2003. Glasgow, Scotland: Collins.
Dillon, Michele. 2014. Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Farlex. (N.d.) TheFreeDictionary.com: Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus. Farlex. (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/).
Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. 2010. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: Norton.
Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.
Kuper, Adam, and Jessica Kuper, eds. 1996. The Social Science Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
Macmillan. (N.d.) Macmillan Dictionary. (https://www.macmillandictionary.com/).
Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).
O’Leary, Zina. 2007. The Social Science Jargon Buster: The Key Terms You Need to Know. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).
Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (https://wordnet.princeton.edu/).
Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 1997. New York: Random House.
Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.
Ritzer, George, ed. 2007. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Ritzer, George and J. Michael Ryan, eds. 2011. The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Scott, John, and Gordon Marshall. 2005. A Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.
Thorpe, Christopher, Chris Yuill, Mitchell Hobbs, Sarah Tomley, and Marcus Weeks. 2015. The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. London: Dorling Kindersley.
Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).
Wiley. (N.d.) Wiley Online Library. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/).
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2016. “agency.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved October 23, 2020 (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 October 23, 2020. https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“agency.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2020. <https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/>.