Readings for Oxford Summer Meeting

For the ISCAR summer meeting in Oxford participants (and other interested) can find the readings below.

The problem of agency

(Malcolm Reed)

Why raise this issue? Why is there a problem with agency and why should this concern us within the sociocultural/cultural-historical field?

Agency’ as an issue has a history. In some accounts one would read back to the philosophy of Locke and Spinoza. In sociology, a critical turning point emerges in the work of Giddens (1979) and Archer’s (1982) response. In CHAT, agency has become modified as ‘relational’ (Edwards, 2005) and ‘transformative’. However, ‘agency’ is frequently attested in CHAT publications without any particular attention to these historical distinctions and arguments. Indeed, Edwards (2015) is one of very few CHAT researchers to address background definitions of ‘agency’. This has to be a problem, since otherwise ‘agency’ becomes a taken-for-granted referent and therefore escapes its productive dialectical relationship with learning and the institutions that seek to structure that development.

Our meeting will take the form of open discussions, each opened by a brief introduction. You do not have to have read any of the following in advance, although it may help you to orientate. The pre-readings attempt broadly to open up how ‘agency’ is debated and used, whilst the further readings take you further (extra points for working out why I have put Bozhovich in)!


  1. Archer, M. S. (1982) Morphogenesis versus structuration: On combining structure and action. The British Journal of Sociology, 33(4), 455-483.
  2. Barnes, B. (2001) The macro/micro problem and the problem of structure and agency. In G. Ritzer & B. Smart (Eds) Handbook of Social Theory. London: Sage, 339-352.
  3. Bernstein, B. (2001) Symbolic control: Issues of empirical description of agencies and agents. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 4(1), 21-33.
  4. Edwards, A. (2015) Recognising and realising teachers’ professional agency. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 779-784
  5. Sannino, A. (2015) The principle of double stimulation: A path to volitional action. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 6, 1-15.
  6. Van Oers, B. (2015). Implementing a play-based curriculum: Fostering teacher agency in primary school. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 4, 19–27.

Further reading:

  1. Archer, M. S. (2008) For structure: its reality, properties and powers: A reply to Anthony King. The Sociological Review, 48(3), 464-472.
  2. Bozhovich, L. I. (2009) The social situation of child development. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 47(4), 59–86.
  3. Edwards (2005) – Relational agency: Learning to be a resourceful practitioner. International Journal of Educational Research, 43, 168–182
  4. Emirbayer, M. & Mische, A. (1998) What is agency? American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023.
  5. Giddens, A. (1979) Agency, structure. In: Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. London: Macmillan, 49-95.
  6. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Culture, self, and the reality of the social. Psychological Inquiry, 14(3-4), 277–283. –
  7. Ratner, C. (2000). Agency and culture. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 30(4), 413–434.
  8. Sannino, A. (2010) Teachers’ talk of experiencing: Conflict, resistance and agency. Teaching and Teacher Education. 26 , 838-844.
  9. Sewell, W. H. (1982) A theory of structure: Duality, agency, and transformation. American Journal of Sociology, 98(1), 1-29.
  10. Taylor, C. (1985) What is human agency? Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 15-44.

If you cannot access some of the titles, send an email to Malcom Reed for instructions on how to find the readings.

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