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Agency Unshackled: The Origin of ‘Agency’ in Sociology, Identity, and Text
Unformatted Document Text:  Agency Unshackled: The origin of ‘agency’ in sociology, identity, and text Introduction The following is a meditation on the nature of agency as traced through a quick history of sociology. The concept of agency originates in the work of French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. However, it could be argued that there are proto-forms of agency in the work of Marx and Durkheim, as well as that of Gabriel Tarde (1888). Althusser’s notions of structure and agency greatly influenced Pierre Bourdieu and his concept of the habitus of social life. Part of Bourdieu’s project was an attempt to bridge structuralism and phenomenology in dealing with the social world. Later, Foucault described subjectivity in a tug-of-war with ubiquitous power. This subjectivity is arguably a form of agency, however it is locked in dialectic with power. Judith Butler took this notion of the individual further, deconstructing gender roles with an emphasis on performativity, a radical agency. Butler deconstructed the individual herself. Seyla Benhabib had issues with Butler’s radical formulation of the individual, and with her abandonment of progress. What happens when agency becomes unshackled from identity? Who or what can have agency? We explore some contemporary interpretations of the term agency, beginning with Butler but moving on to discuss Rose’s (2007) concept of technologies of government and its relationship to ‘Actor-Network Theory’ (Latour, 2005). We consider the notion of uncommodifiable anger in the spirit of Artaud, and the breakdown of the individual voice in the writing of Kierkegaard and the emergence of a “demonic writing machine.” All this is to ask the question, is there an agency in the notion of text divorced from identity? I conclude by attempting to mend this nullity. I want to offer a ray of hope by

Authors: Rodriguez, Mario.
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Agency Unshackled: The origin of ‘agency’ in sociology, identity, and text
The following is a meditation on the nature of agency as traced through a quick history of 
sociology.  The concept of agency originates in the work of French Marxist philosopher Louis 
Althusser.  However, it could be argued that there are proto-forms of agency in the work of Marx 
and Durkheim, as well as that of Gabriel Tarde (1888).  Althusser’s notions of structure and 
agency greatly influenced Pierre Bourdieu and his concept of the habitus of social life.  Part of 
Bourdieu’s project was an attempt to bridge structuralism and phenomenology in dealing with 
the social world.  Later, Foucault described subjectivity in a tug-of-war with ubiquitous power. 
This subjectivity is arguably a form of agency, however it is locked in dialectic with power.
Judith Butler took this notion of the individual further, deconstructing gender roles with 
an emphasis on performativity, a radical agency. Butler deconstructed the individual herself. 
Seyla Benhabib had issues with Butler’s radical formulation of the individual, and with her 
abandonment of progress.  What happens when agency becomes unshackled from identity?  Who 
or what can have agency?  We explore some contemporary interpretations of the term agency, 
beginning with Butler but moving on to discuss Rose’s (2007) concept of technologies of 
government and its relationship to ‘Actor-Network Theory’ (Latour, 2005).  We consider the 
notion of uncommodifiable anger in the spirit of Artaud, and the breakdown of the individual 
voice in the writing of Kierkegaard and the emergence of a “demonic writing machine.”
All this is to ask the question, is there an agency in the notion of text divorced from 
identity?  I conclude by attempting to mend this nullity.  I want to offer a ray of hope by 

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