Generative Concept of Agency
Sociology University of Helsinki Helsinki, Finland
This paper presents a critique of what I call the Standard Sociological View of Action.In this framework, motives, goals, circumstances and meanings that regulate action are seen as separate elements. An opposition between objective structures and agency is constructed, and at the same time an opposition between the social and the natural is created. These oppositions have had a central place in sociological theorizing throughout the twentieth century. Awareness of the problems related to them at the abstract theoretical level was revived in the work of Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Touraine and Margaret Archer in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the awareness at the abstract level has not removed them from the most influential theories of consumer behaviour such as that by Prochascka, Norcross, et al. (1994) or (Ajzen & Fishbein 1980; Ajzen 1991).
In this paper I present a critique of the Standard Concept of Action and propose that it be replaced with a Generative Concept of Agency founded on a cyclical structure in which habits and images are central elements. All action is based on and related to habits formed earlier; images are mobilized when actions change and are transformed into consolidated practices. The Generative Concept draws on Bourdieu?s sociology. It is a way of interpreting the notorious ambivalence of the concept of habitus, between meaning and objective conditions on the one hand, and agency and structure on the other. The paper suggests that this ambivalence is less disturbing if habitus is understood as a theory of agency rather than as a theory of action, or practice. The Generative Concept of Agency applies both at the social level and at the level of individual behaviour. It resolves the two oppositions between structures and agency and natural and cultura. It is an indispensable tool for analyzing consumer behaviour of any kind.