Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens (born 18 January 1938) is a British sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is considered to be one of the most prominent modern sociologists, the author of at least 34 books, published in at least 29 languages, issuing on average more than one book every year. In 2007, Giddens was listed as the fifth most-referenced author of books in the humanities.
Three notable stages can be identified in his academic life. The first one involved outlining a new vision of what sociology is, presenting a theoretical and methodological understanding of that field, based on a critical reinterpretation of the classics. His major publications of that era include Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971) and The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies (1973). In the second stage Giddens developed the theory of structuration, an analysis of agency and structure, in which primacy is granted to neither. His works of that period, such as New Rules of Sociological Method (1976), Central Problems in Social Theory (1979) and The Constitution of Society (1984), brought him international fame on the sociological arena.
The most recent stage concerns modernity, globalisation and politics, especially the impact of modernity on social and personal life. This stage is reflected by his critique of postmodernity, and discussions of a new "utopian-realist" third way in politics, visible in the Consequences of Modernity (1990), Modernity and Self-Identity (1991), The Transformation of Intimacy (1992), Beyond Left and Right (1994) and The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1998). Giddens' ambition is both to recast social theory and to re-examine our understanding of the development and trajectory of modernity.
Giddens served as Director of the London School of Economics 1997–2003, where he is now Emeritus Professor at the Department of Sociology.
Giddens was born and raised in Edmonton, London, and grew up in a lower-middle-class family, son of a clerk with London Transport; he attended Minchenden School. He was the first member of his family to go to university. Giddens received his undergraduate academic degree (in joint sociology and psychology) at the University of Hull in 1959, followed by a master's degree at the London School of Economics. He later gained a PhD at King's College, Cambridge. In 1961, he started working at the University of Leicester where he taught social psychology. At Leicester - considered to be one of the seedbeds of British sociology - he met Norbert Elias and began to work on his own theoretical position. In 1969, he was appointed to a position at the University of Cambridge, where he later helped create the Social and Political Sciences Committee (SPS - now HSPS), a sub-unit of the Faculty of Economics.
Giddens worked for many years at Cambridge as a fellow of King's College and was eventually promoted to a full professorship in 1987. He is cofounder of Polity Press (1985). From 1997 to 2003, he was director of the London School of Economics and a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute for Public Policy Research. He was also an adviser to Tony Blair; it was Giddens whose "third way" political approach has been Tony Blair's guiding political idea. He has been a vocal participant in British political debates, supporting the centre-left Labour Party with media appearances and articles (many of which are published in New Statesman). He was given a life peerage in June 2004, as Baron Giddens, of Southgate in the London Borough of Enfield and sits in the House of Lords for Labour. Giddens also holds 15 honorary degrees from various universities.
Giddens, the author of over 34 books and 200 articles, essays and reviews, has contributed and written about most notable developments in the area of social sciences, with the exception of research design and methods. He has written commentaries on most leading schools and figures and has used most sociological paradigms in both micro and macrosociology. His writings range from abstract, metatheoretical problems to very direct and 'down-to-earth' textbooks for students. Finally, he is also known for his interdisciplinary approach: he has commented not only on the developments in sociology, but also in anthropology, archaeology, psychology, philosophy, history, linguistics, economics, social work and most recently, political science. In view of his knowledge and works, one may view much of his life's work as a form of 'grand synthesis' of sociological theory.
The nature of sociology
Before 1976, most of Giddens' writings offered critical commentary on a wide range of writers, schools and traditions. Giddens took a stance against the then-dominant structural functionalism (represented by Talcott Parsons), as well as criticising evolutionism and historical materialism. In Capitalism and Modern Social Theory (1971), he examined the work of Weber, Durkheim and Marx, arguing that despite their different approaches each was concerned with the link between capitalism and social life. Giddens emphasised the social constructs of power, modernity and institutions, defining sociology as:
In New Rules of Sociological Method (1976) (the title of which alludes to Durkheim's Rules of the Sociological Method of 1895), Giddens attempted to explain 'how sociology should be done' and addressed a long-standing divide between those theorists who prioritise 'macro level' studies of social life - looking at the 'big picture' of society - and those who emphasise the 'micro level' - what everyday life means to individuals. In New Rules... he noted that the functionalist approach, invented by Durkheim, treated society as a reality unto itself, not reducible to individuals. He rejected Durkheim's sociological positivism paradigm, which attempted to predict how societies operate, ignoring the meanings as understood by individuals. Giddens noted:
He contrasted Durkheim with Weber's approach - interpretative sociology - focused on understanding agency and motives of individuals. Giddens is closer to Weber than Durkheim, but in his analysis he rejects both of those approaches, stating that while society is not a collective reality, nor should the individual be treated as the central unit of analysis.
Rather he uses the logic of hermeneutic tradition (from interpretative sociology) to argue for the importance of agency in sociological theory, claiming that human social actors are always to some degree knowledgeable about what they are doing. Social order is therefore a result of some pre-planned social actions, not automatic evolutionary response. Sociologists, unlike natural scientists, have to interpret a social world which is already interpreted by the actors that inhabit it. According to Giddens there is a "Duality of structure" by which social practice, which is the principal unit of investigation, has both a structural and an agency-component. The structural environment constrains individual behaviour, but also makes it possible. He also noted the existence of a specific form of a social cycle: once sociological concepts are formed, they filter back into everyday world and change the way people think. Because social actors are reflexive and monitor the ongoing flow of activities and structural conditions, they adapt their actions to their evolving understandings. As a result, social scientific knowledge of society will actually change human activities. Giddens calls this two-tiered, interpretive and dialectical relationship between social scientific knowledge and human practices the "double hermeneutic".
Giddens also stressed the importance of power, which is means to ends, and hence is directly involved in the actions of every person. Power, the transformative capacity of people to change the social and material world, is closely shaped by knowledge and space-time.
In New Rules... Giddens specifically wrote that:
For more details on this topic, see Theory of structuration.
Giddens' theory of structuration explores the question of whether it is individuals or social forces that shape our social reality. He eschews extreme positions, arguing that although people are not entirely free to choose their own actions, and their knowledge is limited, they nonetheless are the agency which reproduces the social structure and leads to social change. His ideas find an echo in the philosophy of the modernist poet Wallace Stevens who suggests that we live in the tension between the shapes we take as the world acts upon us, and the ideas of order that our imagination imposes upon the world. Giddens writes that the connection between structure and action is a fundamental element of social theory, structure and agency are a duality that cannot be conceived of apart from one another and his main argument is contained in his expression "duality of structure". At a basic level, this means that people make society, but are at the same time constrained by it. Action and structure cannot be analysed separately, as structures are created, maintained and changed through actions, while actions are given meaningful form only through the background of the structure: the line of causality runs in both directions making it impossible to determine what is changing what. In Giddens own words (from New rules...) :
In this regard he defines structures as consisting of rules and resources involving human action: the rules constrain the actions, the resources make it possible. He also differentiates between systems and structures. Systems display structural properties but are not structures themselves. He notes in his article Functionalism: après la lutte (1976) that:
This process of structures (re)producing systems is called structuration. Systems here mean to Giddens "the situated activities of human agents" (The Constitution of Society.) and "the patterning of social relations across space-time" (ibid.). Structures are then "...sets of rules and resources that individual actors draw upon in the practices that reproduce social systems’" (Politics, Sociology and Social Theory) and "systems of generative rules and sets, implicated in the articulation of social systems" (The Constitution of Society.), existing virtually "out of time and out of space" (New rules....). Structuration therefore means that relations that took shape in the structure, can exist "out of time and place": in other words, independent of the context in which they are created. An example is the relationship between a teacher and a student: when they come across each other in another context, say on the street, the hierarchy between them is still preserved.
Structure can act as a constraint on action, but it also enables action by providing common frames of meaning. Consider the example of language: structure of language is represented by the rules of syntax that rule out certain combinations of words. But the structure also provides rules that allow new actions to occur, enabling us to create new, meaningful sentences. Structures should not be conceived as "simply placing constrains upon human agency, but as enabling." (New rules....) Giddens suggests that structures (traditions, institutions, moral codes, and other sets of expectations - established ways of doing things) are generally quite stable, but can be changed, especially through the unintended consequences of action, when people start to ignore them, replace them, or reproduce them differently.
Thus, actors (agents) employ the social rules appropriate to their culture, ones that they have learned through socialisation and experience. These rules together with the resources at their disposal are used in social interactions. Rules and resources employed in this manner are not deterministic, but are applied reflexively by knowledgeable actors, albeit that actors’ awareness may be limited to the specifics of their activities at any given time. Thus, the outcome of action is not totally predictable.
Connections between micro and macro
Structuration is very useful in synthesising micro and macro issues. On a micro scale, one of individuals' internal sense of self and identity, consider the example of a family: we are increasingly free to choose our own mates and how to relate with them, which creates new opportunities but also more work, as the relationship becomes a reflexive project that has to be interpreted and maintained. Yet this micro-level change cannot be explained only by looking at the individual level as people did not spontaneously change their minds about how to live; neither can we assume they were directed to do so by social institutions and the state.
On a macro scale, one of the state and social organisations like multinational capitalist corporations, consider the example of globalization, which offers vast new opportunities for investment and development, but crises - like the Asian financial crisis - can affect the entire world, spreading far outside the local setting in which they first developed, and last but not least directly influences individuals. A serious explanation of such issues must lie somewhere within the network of macro and micro forces. These levels should not be treated as unconnected; in fact they have significant relation to one another.
To illustrate this relationship, Giddens discusses changing attitudes towards marriage in developed countries. He claims that any effort to explain this phenomenon solely in terms of micro or macro level causes will result in a circular cause and consequence. Social relationships and visible sexuality (micro-level change) are related to the decline of religion and the rise of rationality (macro-level change), but also with changes in the laws relating to marriage and sexuality (macro), change caused by different practices and changing attitudes on the level of everyday lives (micro). Practices and attitudes in turn can be affected by social movements (for example, women's liberation and egalitarianism), a macro-scale phenomena; but the movements usually grow out of everyday life grievances - a micro-scale phenomenon.
All of this is increasingly tied in with mass media, one of our main providers of information. The media do not merely reflect the social world but also actively shape it, being central to modern reflexivity. David Gauntlett writes in Media, Gender and Identity that:
Another example explored by Giddens is the emergence of romantic love, which Giddens (The Transformation of Intimacy) links with the rise of the 'narrative of the self' type of self-identity: "Romantic love introduced the idea of a narrative into an individual's life." Although history of sex clearly demonstrates that passion and sex are not modern phenomena, the discourse of romantic love is said to have developed from the late 18th century. Romanticism, the 18th and 19th century European macro-level cultural movement is responsible for the emergence of the novel - a relatively early form of mass media. The growing literacy and popularity of novels fed back into the mainstream lifestyle and the romance novel proliferated the stories of ideal romantic life narratives on a micro-level, giving the romantic love an important and recognised role in the marriage-type relationship.
Consider also the transformation of intimacy. Giddens asserts that intimate social relationships have become 'democratised', so that the bond between partners – even within a marriage – has little to do with external laws, regulations or social expectations, but is based on the internal understanding between two people – a trusting bond based on emotional communication. Where such a bond ceases to exist, modern society is generally happy for the relationship to be dissolved. Thus we have 'a democracy of the emotions in everyday life' (Runaway World, 1999).
Inevitably, Giddens concludes that all social change stems from a mixture of micro- and macro-level forces.
Giddens says that in the post-traditional order, self-identity is reflexive. It is not a quality of a moment, but an account of a person's life. Giddens writes (Modernity and Self-Identity: 54) that
More than ever before we have access to information that allows us to reflect on the causes and consequences of our actions. At the same time we are faced with dangers related to unintended consequences of our actions and by our reliance on the knowledge of experts. We create, maintain and revise a set of biographical narratives, social roles and lifestyles – the story of who we are, and how we came to be where we are now. We are increasingly free to choose what we want to do and who we want to be (although Giddens contends that wealth gives access to more options). But increased choice can be both liberating and troubling. Liberating in the sense of increasing the likelihood of one's self-fulfilment, and troubling in form of increased emotional stress and time needed to analyse the available choices and minimise risk of which we are increasingly aware (what Giddens sums up as "manufacturing uncertainty"). While in earlier, traditional societies we would be provided with that narrative and social role, in the post-traditional society we are usually forced to create one ourselves. As Giddens (Modernity and Self-Identity: 70) puts it:
Giddens' recent work has been concerned with the question of what is characteristic about social institutions in various points of history. Giddens agrees that there are very specific changes that mark our current era, but argues that it is not a "post-modern era", but just a "radicalised modernity era" (similar to Zygmunt Bauman's concept of liquid modernity), produced by the extension of the same social forces that shaped the previous age. Giddens nonetheless differentiates between pre-modern, modern and late (high) modern societies and doesn't dispute that important changes have occurred but takes a neutral stance towards those changes, saying that it offers both unprecedented opportunities and unparalleled dangers. He also stresses that we haven't really gone beyond modernity. It's just a developed, detraditionalised, radicalised, 'late' modernity. Thus the phenomena that some have called 'postmodern' are to Giddens nothing more than the most extreme instances of a developed modernity. Along with Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash, he endorses the term reflexive modernisation as a more accurate description of the processes associated with the second modernity, since it opposes itself (in its earlier version) instead of opposing traditionalism, endangering the very institutions it created (such as the national state, the political parties or the nuclear family).
Giddens concentrates on a contrast between traditional (pre-modern) culture and post-traditional (modern) culture. In traditional societies, individual actions need not be extensively thought about, because available choices are already determined (by the customs, traditions, etc.). In contrast, in post-traditional society people (actors, agents) are much less concerned with the precedents set by earlier generations, and they have more choices, due to flexibility of law and public opinion. This however means that individual actions now require more analysis and thought before they are taken. Society is more reflexive and aware, something Giddens is fascinated with, illustrating it with examples ranging from state governance to intimate relationships. Giddens examines three realms in particular: the experience of identity, connections of intimacy and political institutions.
The most defining property of modernity, according to Giddens, is that we are disembedded from time and space. In pre-modern societies, space was the area in which one moved, time was the experience one had while moving. In modern societies, however, the social space is no longer confined by the boundaries set by the space in which one moves. One can now imagine what other spaces look like, even if he has never been there. In this regard, Giddens talks about virtual space and virtual time. Another distinctive property of modernity lies in the field of knowledge.
In pre-modern societies, it was the elders who possessed the knowledge: they were definable in time and space. In modern societies we must rely on expert systems. These are not present in time and space, but we must trust them. Even if we trust them, we know that something could go wrong: there's always a risk we have to take. Also the technologies which we use, and which transform constraints into means, hold risks. Consequently, there is always a heightened sense of uncertainty in contemporary societies. It is also in this regard that Giddens uses the image of a 'juggernaut': modernity is said to be like an unsteerable juggernaut travelling through space.
Humanity tries to steer it, but as long as the modern institutions, with all their uncertainty, endure, we will never be able to influence its course. The uncertainty can however be managed, by 'reembedding' the expert-systems into the structures which we are accustomed to.
Another characteristic is enhanced reflexivity, both at the level of individuals and at the level of institutions. The latter requires an explanation: in modern institutions there is always a component which studies the institutions themselves for the purpose of enhancing its effectiveness. This enhanced reflexivity was enabled as language became increasingly abstract with the transition from pre-modern to modern societies, becoming institutionalised into universities. It is also in this regard that Giddens talks about "double hermeneutica": every action has two interpretations. One is from the actor himself, the other of the investigator who tries to give meaning to the action he is observing. The actor who performs the action, however, can get to know the interpretation of the investigator, and therefore change his own interpretation, or his further line of action.
This is the reason that positive science, according to Giddens, is never possible in the social sciences: every time an investigator tries to identify causal sequences of action, the actors can change their further line of action. The problem is, however, that conflicting viewpoints in social science result in a disinterest of the people. For example, when scientists don't agree about the greenhouse-effect, people will withdraw from that arena, and deny that there is a problem. Therefore, the more the sciences expand, the more uncertainty there is in the modern society. In this regard, the juggernaut gets even more steerless.
In A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism, Giddens concludes that:
The Third Way
In the age of late and reflexive modernity and post scarcity economy, the political science is being transformed. Giddens notes that there is a possibility that "life politics" (the politics of self-actualisation) may become more visible than "emancipatory politics" (the politics of inequality); that new social movements may lead to more social change than political parties; and that the reflexive project of the self and changes in gender and sexual relations may lead the way, via the "democratisation of democracy", to a new era of Habermasian "dialogic democracy" in which differences are settled, and practices ordered, through discourse rather than violence or the commands of authority.
Giddens, relying on his past familiar themes of reflexivity and system integration, which places people into new relations of trust and dependency with each other and their governments, argues that the political concepts of 'left' and 'right' are now breaking down, as a result of many factors, most centrally the absence of a clear alternative to capitalism and the eclipse of political opportunities based on the social class in favour of those based on lifestyle choices.
In his most recent works, Giddens moves away from explaining how things are to the more demanding attempt of advocacy about how they ought to be. In "Beyond Left and Right" (1994) Giddens criticises market socialism and constructs a six-point framework for a reconstituted radical politics:
The Third Way (1998) provides the framework within which the 'third way' - which Giddens also terms the 'radical centre' - is justified. In addition, The Third Way supplies a broad range of policy proposals aimed at what Giddens calls the 'progressive centre-left' in British politics. According to Giddens:
Giddens remains fairly optimistic about the future of humanity:
Giddens discards the possibility of a single, comprehensive, all-connecting ideology or political programme. Instead he advocates going after the 'small pictures', ones people can directly affect at their home, workplace or local community. This, to Giddens, is a difference between pointless utopianism and useful utopian realism, which he defines as envisaging "alternative futures whose very propagation might help them be realised". (The Consequences of Modernity). By 'utopian' he means that this is something new and extraordinary, and by 'realistic' he stresses that this idea is rooted in the existing social processes and can be viewed as their simple extrapolation. Such a future has at its centre a more socialised, demilitarised and planetary-caring global world order variously articulated within green, women's and peace movements, and within the wider democratic movement.
In 1999, Giddens delivered the BBC Reith Lectures on the subject of ‘Runaway World’, subsequently published as a book of that title. The aim was to introduce the concept and implications of globalisation to a lay audience. He was the first Reith Lecturer to deliver the lectures in different places around the world; and the first to respond directly to e-mails that came in while he was speaking. The lectures were delivered in London, Washington, New Delhi and Hong Kong and responded to by local audiences. Giddens received the Asturias Prize for the social sciences in 2002. The award has been labelled ‘the Spanish Nobel Prize’, but stretches well beyond the sphere of science. Other recipients of the Prize that year included Woody Allen, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Main article: LSE Gaddafi links
On two visits to Libya in 2006 and 2007, organised by the Boston-based consultancy firm Monitor Group, Giddens met with Muammar al-Gaddafi. Giddens has declined to comment on the financial compensation he received. The Guardian reported in March 2011, that Libya's government engaged Monitor Group as advisor on matters of public relations. Monitor Group allegedly received 2 million pounds in return for undertaking a "cleansing campaign" to improve Libya's image. In a letter to Abdullah Senussi, a high-ranking Libyan official in July 2006, Monitor Group reported that:
Giddens' first visit to Libya resulted in articles in the New Statesman, El País and La Repubblica, where he argued that the country had been dramatically transformed. In the New Statesman he wrote: "Gaddafi's 'conversion' may have been driven partly by the wish to escape sanctions, but I get the strong sense it is authentic and there is a lot of motive power behind it. Saif Gaddafi is a driving force behind the rehabilitation and potential modernisation of Libya. Gaddafi Sr, however, is authorising these processes." During the second visit, Monitor Group organised a panel of "three thinkers" – Giddens, Gaddafi, and Benjamin Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld – chaired by Sir David Frost.
Giddens remarked of his meetings with Gaddafi, "You usually get about half an hour with a political leader," he recalls. "My conversation lasts for more than three. Gaddafi is relaxed and clearly enjoys intellectual conversation. He likes the term 'third way’ because his own political philosophy is a version of this idea. He makes many intelligent and perceptive points. I leave enlivened and encouraged."
Theory of 'reflexivity'
Giddens introduces 'reflexivity' and in information societies information gathering is considered as a routinised process for the greater protection of the nation. Information gathering is known as the concept of 'individuation.' Individuality comes as a result of individuation as people are given more 'informed choices.' The more information the government has about a person, the more entitlements are given to the citizens. The process of information gathering helps government to identify 'enemies-of-the-state,' singling out individuals that are suspicious of plotting activities against the state. The advent of technology has brought national security to complete new level. Historically, the military relied on armed force to deal with threats. With the development of ICT, biometric scans, language translation, real time programs and other related intelligent programs have made the identification of terrorist activities much easier compared to the past. The analysing of algorithm patterns in biometric databases have given government new leads. Data about citizens can be collected through identification and credential verification companies. Hence, surveillance and ICT goes hand-in-hand with information gathering. In other words, the collection of information is necessary as 'stringent safeguards' for the protection of the nation, preventing it from imminent attacks.
Living in a high opportunity, high risk society
Giddens has vigorously pursued the theme of globalization in recent years. He sees the growing interdependence of world society as driven not only by the increasing integration of the world economy, but above all by massive advances in communications. As he has noted, when he delivered the BBC Reith Lectures, just before the turn of the century, the Internet was in its infancy. Now it has expanded in a wholly unprecedented way - linking people and organizations across the world on an everyday level, but also intruding deeply into everyday life. Billions of people have access to it and the numbers are growing every day. An increasingly interconnected and wired-up world offers many advantages and benefits. Yet it carries new risks too, some themselves of global proportions. In the 21st century work opportunity and risk combine as never before. Giddens refers to the emergence on a global level of a ‘high opportunity, high risk society’. Both on the level of opportunity and risk we are in terrain human beings have never explored before. We don’t know in advance what the balance is likely to be, because many of the opportunities and risks are quite new – we can’t draw on past history to assess them.
Climate change is one of those new risks. No other civilization before the advent of modern industrialism was able to intervene into nature to even a fraction of the extent to which we do on an everyday basis.
Climate change was referred to in several of Giddens’s books from the mid-1990s onwards, but was not discussed at length until the publication of his work The Politics of Climate Change in 2009. Climate change, Giddens says, constitutes a fundamental threat to the future of industrial civilisation as it spreads across the globe. Given that is the case, he asks, why are countries around the world doing so little to counter its advance? Many reasons are involved, but the prime one is the historical novelty of humanly induced climate change itself. No previous civilisation intervened into nature on a level remotely similar to that which we do on an everyday level today. We have no previous experience of dealing with such an issue and especially one of such global scope, or of the dangers it poses. Those dangers hence appear as abstract, and located at some indefinite point in the future. ‘Giddens’s paradox’ consists of the following theorem. We are likely put off responding adequately to climate change until major catastrophes unequivocally connected to it occur; but by then by definition it will be too late. For we have no way of reversing the build-up of greenhouses gases that is driving the transformation of the world’s climate. Some such gases will be in the atmosphere for centuries.
In his latest work, Giddens has returned to the subject of the European Union, discussed in 2007 in his book Europe in the Global Age and in a diversity of articles. In Turbulent and Mighty Continent: What Future for Europe? he discusses the likely future of the EU in the wake of the world financial crisis. Giddens writes as a committed pro-European, but accepts that fundamental reforms must be made if the EU is to avoid stagnation or worse. The coming of the euro introduced economic federalism among the eurozone countries and therefore to the EU as a whole. Some version of political federalism must follow, even if limited in nature. Reforms must confer qualities absent from much of the EU’s history but now required for its future – flexible and quick-acting leadership, coupled to the greater democratic involvement of citizens. In December 2014 Turbulent and Mighty Continent was awarded the European Book Prize, awarded by a selection jury featuring members from many different countries.
Anthony Giddens is the author of over 34 books and 200 articles. This is a selection of some of the most important of his works:
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