The Problem of Agency by William A. Sax

I read a chapter titled “Village Agency” appearing in the book “Village Matters”.  The author, William S. Sax, puts forward his remarks about the typical notions of ‘agency’. In the beginning paragraph, he finds it a problematic in the sense that it has become confused with a set of moral and ethical issues. Typically ‘agency’ is punctuated with resistance to ‘structure’. It is often seen as how persons pursue their individual projects and interests with in the multiple, more or less constraining structures of the society. Thus in this sense it is seen as a capability or power exercised by individual persons (against structures). However he finds this assumption about the definition of ‘agency’ rarely justified or defended and believes that it is the result of pervasive but unexamined individualism in Euro- American social theory. In his view if ‘agency’ could straightforwardly be seen as the capacity to effect changes in the external world, then it just cannot be limited to individual persons. Rather it could be equally ascribed to groups, organizations, even to non-human or non embodied entities.

This view gives us a measure to include Universities, trade unions, clubs and other forms of entities as agents in any process. It also shows that agency is always distributed in networks as he argues, particularly in context of villages he has studied.

References to follow:

Philosophy of collective intentionality, Tuomela 1995

Theories of distributed cognition, Hutchins 1995


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