“Structure/Agency” Problem in the 21st Century:
Changing Social Reality and Research Implications

Sorokin P.S.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), Assoc. Prof., Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Education, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. psorokin@hse.ru

Froumin I.D.

Dr. Sci. (Pedagog.), Prof., Head, Institute of Education, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. ifroumin@hse.ru

DOI: 10.31857/S013216250009571-1
ID of the Article:

This work/article is a product of research project implemented as part of the Basic Research Program at the HSE University (project No. 29). The authors are sincerely grateful to Dr. Yaroslav Kuzminov and Alexander Povalko at National Research University Higher School of Economics for their invaluable advice and support.

For citation:

Sorokin P.S., Froumin I.D. “Structure/Agency” Problem in the 21st Century: Changing Social Reality and Research Implications . Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2020. No 7. P. 27-36


This article addresses traditional for social thought question of “structure/agency” relations in the context of current problems of socio-economic development at the global and national levels. The focus is more on general social theory. The key thesis of the present paper is that, in the context of negative trends in socio-economic dynamics and significant increase in the pace of social and technological change, the phenomenon of “de-structuration” takes place implying that in various domains of social life (economic, political, cultural e.a.) structures are more and more subject to change thus opening opportunities for “transformative agency” and creating new institutions that may potentially contribute to positive change in socioeconomic development. However, authors suggest that dominating approach in sociological research is insufficient to address these issues. It is demonstrated that human capital theory and, in particular, the T. Schultz’s idea about the “entrepreneurial element” of human capital, may be useful for theoretical elaborations and practical solutions responsive to challenges in socioeconomic development. Rich heritage of the Russian sociological tradition may help renovate theoretical and methodological toolbox of sociology.

structure/agency; social institutions; current trends of socio-economic development; de-structuration; human capital; Russian sociological tradition; transformative agency


Девятко И.Ф. Социологические теории деятельности и практической рациональности. М.: Аванти плюс, 2003. [Deviatko I.F. (2003) Sociological Theories of Agency and Practical Rationality. Moscow: Avanti plus. (In Russ.)]

Иванов Д.В. К теории потоковых структур // Социологические исследования. 2012. № 4. С. 8–16. [Ivanov D.V. (2012) Concerning the Theory of Stream Structures. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. No. 4: 8–16. (In Russ.)]

Кравченко С.А. Усложняющиеся метаморфозы – продукт «стрелы времени» и фактор социоприродных турбулентностей // Социологические исследования. 2018. № 9. С. 3–11. DOI: 10.31857/ S013216250001952-0. [Kravchenko S.A. (2018) Increasingly Complex Metamorphoses – the Product of “Arrow of Time” and Factor of Socio-Naturаl Turbulences. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. No. 9: 3–11. DOI: 10.31857/S013216250001952-0. (In Russ.)]

Смелзер Н. Социология: Сексуальные различия и социальные вознаграждения // Социологические исследования. 1992. № 10. С. 79–88. [Smelser N. (1992) Sciology: Sexual Differences and Social Rewarding. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. No. 10: 79–88. (In Russ.)]

Сорокин П.С. Российская социологическая традиция в международном научном дискурсе: особенности, проблемы и перспективы // Социологические исследования. 2017. № 1. С. 117–126. [Sorokin P.S. (2017). Russian Sociological Tradition in the Context of International Discourse: Specific Features, Problems, and Perspectives. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. No. 1: 117–126. (In Russ.)]

Тощенко Ж.Т. Социология жизни как концепция исследования социальной реальности // Социологические исследования. 2000. № 2. С. 3–12. [Toschenko Z.T. (2000) Sociology of Life as a Concept for Research in Social Reality. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. No. 2: 3–12. (In Russ.)]

Archer M.S. (2007) Making our Way through the World: Human Reflexivity and Social Mobility. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bloom N., Liang J., Roberts J., Ying Z.J. (2015) Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Vol. 130. No. 1: 165–218.

Brynjolfsson E., Rock D., Syverson C. (2019) Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics. In: Agrawal A., Gans J., Goldfarb A. (eds) The Economics of Artificial Intelligence: An Agenda. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 23–57.

Frichot H., Runting H. (2017) In Captivity: The Real Estate of сo-Living. In: Architecture and Feminisms: Ecologies, Economies, Technologies. London: Routledge: 140–149. DOI: 10.4324/9780203729717.

Goffman E. (1967) Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour. New York: Doubleday.

King A. (2019) Emotion, Interaction and the Structure-Agency Problem: Building on the Sociology of Randall Collins. Thesis Eleven. Vol. 154. No. 1: 38–51. DOI: 10.1177/0725513619874929.

King A. (2010) The Odd Couple: Margaret Archer, Anthony Giddens and British Social Theory. The British Journal of Sociology. Vol. 61. Iss. s1: 253–260. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2009.01288.x.

Kuzminov Ya., Sorokin P., Froumin I. (2019) Generic and Specific Skills as Components of Human Capital: New Challenges for Education Theory and Practice. Foresight and STI Governance. Vol. 13. No. 2: 19–41. DOI: 10.17323/2500-2597.2019.2.19.41.

Lizardo O. (2010) Beyond the Antinomies of Structure: Levi-Strauss, Giddens, Bourdieu, and Sewell. Theory and Society. Vol. 39. No. 6: 651–688. DOI: 10.1007/s11186-010-9125-1.

Mayhew S. (ed.) (2004) A Dictionary of Geography. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Article: Governmentality.)

Merkel J. (2019) ‘Freelance Isn’t Free.’ Co-working as a Critical Urban Practice to Cope with Informality in Creative Labour Markets. Urban Studies. Vol. 56. No. 3: 526–547. DOI: 10.1177/0042098018782374.

Meyer J.W. (2010) World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor. Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 36: 1–20. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102506.

Mironenko I.A., Sorokin P.S. (2018) Seeking for the Definition of “Culture”: Current Concerns and their Implications. A Comment on Gustav Jahoda’s Article “Critical Reflections on some Recent Definitions of 'Culture'”. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. Vol. 52. No. 2: 331–340. DOI: 10.1007/ s12124-018-9425-y.

Schoon I., Lyons-Amos M. (2016) Diverse Pathways in Becoming an Adult: The Role of Structure, Agency and Context. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. 2016. Vol. 46. Part A: 11–20. DOI: 10.1016/j. rssm.2016.02.008.

Schultz T.W. (1979) Prize Lecture. NobelPrize.org. URL: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economicsciences/1979/schultz/lecture/ (accessed 11.03.20).

Schultz T.W. (1975) The Value of the Ability to Deal with Disequilibria. Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 13. No. 3: 827–846.

Sorokin P.A. (1947) Society, Culture and Personality: A System of General Sociology. New York: Harper.

Sorokin P. (2016) ‘Global Sociology’ in Different Disciplinary Practices: Current Conditions, Problems and Perspectives. Current Sociology. Vol. 64. No. 1: 41–59. DOI: 10.1177/0011392115601462.

Sorokin P. (2015) The Russian Sociological Tradition from the XIXth Century until the Present: Key Features and Possible Value for Current Discussions. The American Sociologist. Vol. 46. No. 3: 341–355. DOI: 10.1007/s12108-015-9258-9.

Sorokin P. (2017) Vision and Mission of Sociology: Learning from the Russian Historical Experience. The American Sociologist. Vol. 48. No. 2: 135–171. DOI: 10.1007/s12108-016-9303-3.

Touraine A. (2003) Sociology without Societies. Current Sociology. Vol. 51. No. 2: 123–131. DOI: 10.1177/00113921030512005.

Udehn L. (2002) The Changing Face of Methodological Individualism. Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 28: 479–507. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.28.110601.140938.

Content No 7, 2020