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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

Agency Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: a·gen·cy

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /AY-juhn-see/
  • British English – /AY-juhn-see/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈeɪdʒənsi/
  • British English – /ˈeɪdʒ(ə)nsi/

Usage Notes

  • 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:
    • autonomy
    • free will
    • human agency
    • personal agency
    • self-determination

Additional Information

Related Terms

Works Consulted

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Cite the Definition of Agency

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2016. “agency.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 18, 2024 (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 June 18, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“agency.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2016. Web. 18 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/agency/>.