Human agency and the node

Unpublished manuscript
Michele Battle-Fisher

According to Anthony Giddens (1979), human agency must include an acting subject that deals with action linearly. Sound simple, huh? In this duality of structure, on the most basic level people make up society but are inherently constrained by it (Giddens, 1979). Social interaction is strongly linked this unavoidable embeddedness of the individual within a (social) system (Giddens, 1979). But in Giddens’ writing, I find his musings around power most interesting.

Giddens would argue that sociology had lacked a theory of action. I  enjoyed Giddens’ acceptance that the dialectic of control is a two-way street, though the magnitude of the lesser power would certainly dwarf those in “control” (Giddens, 1979). Power and centrality in networks brings to light unintended consequences of social action of the “powerful”, not personal culpability, per se. Giddens (1979) wrote that a person wields power could have acted otherwise.  In social networks, degree is a measure of possible opportunities due to his or her favored position. Even if an influential node has the highest Bonacich centrality or has been blessed with higher number of connections, there is still human agency (outside of coercion). Did that node have to take advantage of that position of prestige?

I would venture that daily history becomes recapitulated by those in control of  my historical barometer. That barometer may be puppetered in part by our network. I live life, later to splice episodes of that life that are later deemed relevant to a “history”.  Each history is a snapshot from my sociograms, typifying my connections and relationships. I have a memory, some that remain more salient and true than others. My history is not purely textbook history. Someone else adds me to the book of saints if they see fit. I am not alone, not without alters that “alter” and co-create my history. But I also co-create theirs…I would need to intentionally speak louder and endearing into the history’s good graces. It is a life where I have lived within a connected network of influences, each acted upon as their own little co-existing ego networks. Networks are nested within networks. We have networks with boundaries set up specific personal and societal purposes: my church folk from my hometown on the Ohio, my high school graduating class, and even my present census track. How else could we answer this social issue than by social network analysis? Moreover, I must voice and respect the power and constraints endemic of being a citizen of my overlapping and changing networks.

Giddens’ notion of agency was not new in my opinion. I give Giddens credit for amalgamating society cohesively as agency and power, whereby given credence to some lesser-approached theorists that came before. Giddens was rebutting against dominant theories of his time. As a result, we must take care in social network theory and analysis to not ignore the social, human nature of the nodes we map. The pendulum in “social” theory had swung such that actors (and any sense of agency) were reduced to roles and functions in a system (as node in a social network graph). Giddens was fighting this unapologetically. Social networks celebrate the structure and agency in both application and ontology. Both are instrumental if we as complexity thinkers let them be. Mr. Giddens, we are not on opposing teams.




Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.






About Michele Battle-Fisher

This is an archive of the Orgcomplexity Blog. Please follow me at the following sites: Michele Battle-Fisher (Facebook author page) mbattlefisher (Twitter) michele.battle.fisher (Skype) Author Website

4 thoughts on “Human agency and the node

  1. Pingback: Human agency and the node | CxAnnouncements | S...

  2. I’ve not read Giddens’ book, but from what you write it sounds like it has many similarities with the work of the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray ( In particular, you may be interested to read his books “The Self As Agent” and “Persons in Relation”, which both came out of a series of lectures he presented over the period 1952-1954.

  3. Pingback: Human agency and the node | Networking the worl...

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