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Giddens' Structuration from a Dooyeweerdian Perspective

Anthony Giddens has been a major thinker in sociology for some time. This page briefly reviews his Structuration Theory from a Dooyeweerdian perspective, seeking to find similarities and differences, and ways in which Dooyeweerdian thinking can support (agree with) Giddens' approach, ways in which it can critique it, and ways in which it might enrich it.

New, 29 June 2023: Discussion of Structuration Theory from Basden [2018] - a careful critique and contribution.

Contents of Page:

(This page is being posted as a starting point. It might contain some errors, for which I would be glad to receive notice and any other comment.)

Giddens' Structuration Theory and The Duality of Structure

Giddens' Structuration Theory is one of his best-known ideas. At its centre is a cyclical relationship between social structure and human action:

Giddens calls this the duality of structure.

We find a not dissimilar idea in Dooyeweerd, in his correlative enkapsis, in which an Umwelt and its denizens constitute each other: a forest exists by virtue of all the trees, fungi, other plants, insects, birds and other animals, and they are fully what they are by virtue of dwelling in that forest; neither can 'exist', at least not fully, without the other. The same may be said about humans and social structure. Dooyeweerd did not explore this relationship in any depth; Giddens might contribute to Dooyeweerdian thought.

But Dooyeweerd might also contribute to Giddenian thought in a number of ways. One is that Dooyeweerd differentiates between two sides (law and entity sides) of reality. Correlative enkapsis occurs between actual things, that is the entity side. But on the law side we have a different kind of structure, a modal one of meaning and law that enables action, which Giddens' wording echoes:

But before we seek to compare the two thought-frameworks more closely, we want first to understand what motivated Giddens' ideas in the first place. What was it that Giddens was trying to argue against? In the Introduction to the Second Edition of New Rules for Sociological Method (p.4, bulleting added for clarity, but wording as in original), he tells us,

" .. let me first of all expand upon why I developed the concept of the duality of structure. I did so in order to contest two main types of dualism.

First, Dooyeweerd would side with Giddens against both types of dualism; (this portion of) their motivations are at least parallel even if not the same. Regarding the first dualism, Dooyeweerd sees human beings as 'strong' on both action and structure, and sees no incompatibility between individual and society.

However, in the above, we notice the first slight difference in their approaches. While Dooyeweerd accounted for the roles aspectual Law (structure) and aspectual functioning (action) play generally, Giddens tried to account for the roles that concrete social structures and concrete human actions play in social life. They seem to focus on two different 'sides' of reality.

Giddens [1984,, 281-4] summarises what is important in structuration theory. If I understand them aright, they may be summarised as:

Healy [1998, 510-1] and others find problems with Gidden's notion of structure.

"Arguments presented by Urry (1982) and developed by Thompson (1989) show that, in his efforts to make them enabling as well as constraining, Giddens makes structures so vaporous that it is next to impossible to get a grip on them. In his discussions of rules (Giddens 1979:65-9, 1984:16-25), important distinctions between structure (as rules and resources), systems (as products of structures) and agents (as mediating producers) all seem to collapse into one another. Giddens will not allow a fixed and discursively available body of rules, a properly external system or a genuinely independent individual. The result is analytic paralysis: he ends up being unable to separate out these elements at all. He cannot talk about differing degrees of constraint within or between systems (Archer 1982). His theory allows little room for definite statements about cause and effect. Everything is left floating around in the vicinity of the actor, and the various elements are impossible to separate."

Linking Action and Structure: Meanings, Power and Norms

To Giddens, meanings, norms and power are three integral elements of interaction and also of structure. These three elements are what link action and structure. He represents the duality of structure in social interaction in the following table (from p.29 of Giddens [1984]):

(Meanings) (Power) (Norms)
INTERACTION Communication Power Sanction
(MODALITY) Interpretative scheme Facility Norms
STRUCTURE Signification Domination Legitimation
Structure Aspect Pistic Ethical Juridical
Interaction Aspect Lingual Ethical Social

Notice there are two of Dooyeweerd's aspects missing: the economic and aesthetic (as well as the pre-formative aspects). It seems the economic aspect is largely presupposed, almost as though Giddens was treating economics as the very foundation of everthing, the thing that can be taken for granted (and he became the leader of the London School of Economics).

In this, the 'modality' row links the other two, action and structure. For example, communication (the action) comes about when the actor applies an interpretation schema to signification. The three columns express three "integral elements of interaction".

Thus this table expresses Giddens' idea of what constitutes social activity and how it relates to structure.

From a Dooyeweerdian point of view, this is very interesting, if we ask which aspects are mainly involved. On the one hand, if we consider the level of the human action, we see it as social activity, so we find the social aspect is the main one, and it makes strong reference to its neighbour, the lingual aspect.

However, if we consider the macro level of societal structures we find Dooyeweerd's last three aspects, as mentioned in the table above. I believe they are of these aspects, despite the names that Giddens gave, for the following reasons:

It is interesting that these three aspects - juridical, ethical and pistic, are the three that affect the very structures of society in a way that influences our lives in a deep way. Juridical structures are laws, policies, etc. Structures of the 'ethical' aspect are attitudes of selfishness or generosity that pervade society. Pistic structures are the beliefs that pervade society. Things like trust and respect become seen as structures rather than merely individual attitudes.

So, to Dooyeweerd, Giddens' idea has considerable insight. But also Dooyeweerd could enrich Giddens by seeing these three aspects as part of a much larger law-side of reality.

Example: One implication of this is that if we want to change behaviour in society, we must provide motivation (pistic functioning and structure) and not just information or rules (lingual and juridical functioning and structures). The idea that if we give people information they will change, is weak; only those few already slightly motivated to do so will change. Similarly, if we put new rules or policies in place.

Reaching for a law side can perhaps be discerned in the fundamental motivation and idea behind his structuration theory. Giddens [1984,2] wrote:

"What is at issue is how the concepts of action, meaning and subjectivity should be specified and how they might relate to notions of structure and constraint. ... Human activities ... are not brought into being by social actors but continually recreated by them via the very means whereby they express themselves as actors." (italics in original)

The idea that human social activities are nor brought into being but are "continually recreated" speaks of something given which enables the occurrence and being of those activities and actorships. Giddens rejected the naturalistic explanations, and was reaching for something he calls "reflexive" and "recursive". However, moving as he was in the paths of immanence philosophy, Giddens did not have available to him the idea of law and entity side, so still thought of societal structure as this enabler. Structuration theory provides great insight into the entity-side relationship between agency and structure, but there is evidence in this passage that Giddens was reaching for something like a law side too. The use of "express themselves as" cannot refer to societal structures but to what is means to be a social actor. He is reaching for a notion of (social) meaningfulness, within which (social) actors function. It might not be mere coincidence that Dooyeweerd [1955,I,3] used the word "expressing" in relation to aspects.

Main Comparison of Giddens with Dooyeweerd

To compare the two frameworks of thought in more detail, we use Giddens' own summary of his ideas at the end of his work, New Rules of Sociological Method. There Giddens sets out nine main topics in four main groups.

A. The Subject Matter of Sociology

In Dooyeweerdian terms, the subject matter of any scientific arena is centred on one of the modal aspects. The remit of each science is to study the laws of its aspect, usually by a process of higher abstraction that isolated the functioning of the aspect from other aspects. So, to the Dooyeweerdian approach, questions about the subject matter of a science are meaningful, and are related to the kernel of the aspect concerned which, in this case, is the social aspect. To Dooyeweerd, this is one of the human aspects that have normative laws.

A1. "Sociology is not concerned with a 'pre-given' universe of objects, but with one which is constituted or produced by the active doings of subjects."

We can see several points of agreement with Dooyeweerd in the above:

We can also see further points at which Dooyeweerd meets Giddens in the text that follows the above, in which Giddens discusses the place of history and the circular relationship in which human beings produce society, which in turn produces them.

Thus Dooyeweerd and Giddens agree on many points. But we might note that Giddens does not say what is the proper bounds of social science; he only gives some of its characteristics, such as "not pre-given", circular, to do with history, and speaks of how it does or does not relate to the natural world. Dooyeweerd, on the other hand, makes a quite specific proposal, that the kernel of the social aspect is social interaction and institution.

A2. "The production and reproduction of society thus has to be treated as a skilled performance on the part of its members, not as merely a mechanical series of processes."

In this, Giddens seems to be distancing his thinking from those sociological theories that are based on deterministic processes. The mention of "skilled performance" emphasises what Dooyeweerd would see as fuctioning in the formative aspect.

Giddens continues, "To emphasize this, however, is definitely not to say that actors are wholly aware of what these skills are, or just how they manage to exercise them; or that the forms of social life are adequately understood as the intended outcomes of action." This touches Dooyeweerd's idea of the tacit nature of everyday thinking and doing. To Dooyeweerd, everyday doing is multi-aspectual in nature, involving functioning in each aspect, but these distinct functionings are interwoven into a coherence of human living. In the immediate situation of living, we 'live' without being aware of the individual aspects. Only when s/he reflects on (stands back from and against) the living, do the aspects of appear distinct.

However, we might ask Giddens how, if people are not aware of "how they manage", the "forms of social life" come about. Dooyeweerd's answer is that the aspects (especially the social aspect) pertain whether we are aware of them or not. This is the subtle 'givenness' of the aspects. They provide a framework of Meaning that enables all we do. This led Dooyeweerd, as noted above, to propose the range of possible types of social institution is not completely unbounded, but rather is directed by the aspects. See below. In this he is not completely at odds with Giddens, as we see in section B.

B. Boundaries of Agency and Modes in which (Re-)Production are examined

B1. "The realm of human agency is bounded. Human beings produce society, but they do so as historically located actors, and not under conditions of their own choosing."

Dooyeweerd would strongly agree with this statement. By virtue of his multi-aspectual approach, Dooyeweerd sees human beings as "historically located" (as well as located spatially, physically, economically, aesthetically, juridically, ethically, pistically, etc.). Giddens' word 'located' seems to convey both Dooyeweerd's notion of functioning within the law-framework of each aspect, and his word "historically" gives especial reference to the formative or historical aspect that says that all we do is part of a historical and cultural story.

Giddens opposes "historically located" to "own choosing". But to Dooyeweerd, these are both of the same aspect and do not stand in opposition. History, he would claim, comes about by deliberate human will ("own choosing"), and also forms the formative-aspect environment in which that "own choosing" takes place. In this, he echoes Giddens' circular relationship that we see pervading structuration theory.

What is perhaps of even sharper interest is Giddens' statement (p.169) about "behaviour that has to be analysed nomologically" and that "In respect of sociology, the crucial task of nomological analysis is to be found in the explanation of the structural properties of social systems." 'Nomological' refers to laws, a central concept in Dooyeweerd. Moreover, he links nomological analysis to explaining the 'structural properties' of social systems. To Dooyeweerd, both 'structural' properties and laws are rooted in and tied to the aspects. GIddens then opens up the discussion of what Dooyeweerd sees as aspectual Law in ways very commensurable with Dooyeweerd in B2 and B3.

B2. "Structure must not be conceptualized as simply placing constraints upon human agency, but as enabling."

This is very much in line with Dooyeweerdian thinking. Giddens talks about structure enabling as well as constraining; Dooyeweerd talks about Law enabling as well as constraining. Each aspect has its own distinct law-framework (or structure), that enables meaningful functioning within it. This seems to be a favourite theme with Giddens, who speaks of the duality of structure.

Giddens' word 'structuration' is better than mere 'structure' because it explains "how it comes about that structure is constituted through action, and reciprocally how action is constituted structurally." Structuration gives his theory its name, and thus is well worked out. How it compares with Dooyeweerd's ideas is discussed below.

B3. "Processes of structuration involve an interplay of meanings, norms and power."

'Meanings' and 'Norms' seem at first sight to be very close to Dooyeweerdian thinking, because in Dooyeweerd, both are grounded in the aspects - aspects are a spectrum of Meaning, and they provide norms in the framework in which we live. But the link between Dooyeweerd and Giddens is not so simple. Giddens is speaking about lingual meanings, that is individual meanings that we attach to symbols e.g. during communication.

In the text that follows the above statement, Giddens says that "These three concepts are analytically equivalent as the 'primitive' terms of social science, and are logically implicated in both the notion of intentional action and that of structure: every cognitive and moral order is at the same time a system of power, involving a horizon of 'legitimacy'." He is thus trying to find something common between action and structure, and he comes up with three concepts that, he seems to say, cannot be separated from each other.

We can see echoes of Dooyeweerd's ideas here. If we consider any aspect, we find all three:

Now, to link action and structure. Action is the exercise, by an entity that is subject to the laws of an aspect, of the ability to respond as subject to its laws. Structure is the law-framework. That is the overall picture - but as we see below, there are some detailed differences.

C. Modes of observing and characterizing social life

C1. "The sociological observer cannot make social life available as a 'phenomenon' for observation independently of drawing upon her or his knowledge of it as a resource whereby it is constituted as a 'topic' for investigation."

What Giddens seems to be arguing against, in the statement, is the notion of the detached observer. In reality, he tells us, the process of observation of the observer is part of the latter's own life, and that life is lived within society. More importantly, it is also part of the 'mutual knowledge' that is shared by observer and observed alike. The observer can only 'make sense' of social activity once they share interpretative schemes with those observed. Otherwise, no adequate characterizations of the observed social activity can be 'recognised'.

Dooyeweerd would agree, and there are three parts to the agreement:

Thus we see how Dooyeweerd would account for his agreement with Giddens' position.

C2. "Immersion in a form of life is the necessary and only means whereby an observer is able to generate such characterizations."

If appropriate characterizations requires that the observer shares 'mutual knowledge' with the observed, then a particular problem arises when the observer and observed come from very different cultures. This statement is especially directed at the question of how an observer from one culture can properly and fairly study an "alien culture". Giddens emphasizes that this does not require the observer to become a full member of that culture, but rather to come to the point of "know[ing] how to find one's way about in it, to be able to participate in it as an ensemble of practices."

Dooyeweerd would agree in general terms but, since he was not himself a sociologist, he did not work it out to the detail that Giddens does. However, Dooyeweerd could perhaps enrich Giddens' notion of immersion in "an ensemble of practices" by reminding us that human life involves all aspects, interwoven and yet distinguishable. Therefore, 'immersion' cannot be said to be sufficient until the observer is involved in every aspect of the life of the community in some way - from the arithmetic aspect through to the religious. It is not enough, for example, for the observer to participate economically and juridically by paying their bills, but they should also be living aesthetically, ethically, pistically, etc. in the community, and should respect every aspect of life in the observed community.

However, as Giddens suggests, 'in some way' does not necessarily mean becoming a "full member" of the culture. From a Dooyeweerdian perspective, this could mean that while the observed should be active in each aspect, it is not necessary for the observer's form of that activity to be precisely like that of the observed. For example, the observer will usually have a special place in the social structures of the community (social aspect), and the observer one does not have to adopt the religious beliefs of the observed community (pistic aspect).

Therefore, if the Dooyeweerdian notion of aspects is valid, the observer can expect to experience a tension in each aspect between properly understanding that aspect of the observed situation while not her/himself functioning in that aspect precisely in the way that observed people do.

D. Formulation of concepts within meaning-frames of social science as metalanguages

It is interesting that Giddens speaks of meaning-frames. While many thinkers have ignored meaning, Giddens shares with Dooyeweerd the importance of Meaning, and sees meaning as a framework within which we operate.

D1. "Sociological concepts thus obey a double hermeneutic."

The 'double hermeneutic' involves:

D2. "In sum, the primary tasks of sociological analysis are the following: (a) The hermeneutic explication ... (b) Explication of production, reproduction of society as a accomplished outcome of human agency."

These explications might be *a* task of sociological analysis, but it is doubtful whether Dooyeweerd would agree they are the *primary* task.

Dooyeweerd's Theory of Social Institutions

Dooyeweerd's Critique of Sociology

Towards the end of his life, Dooyeweerd sought to open up the kernel and science of the social aspect, with A Christian Theory of Social Institutions (Note: the word 'Christian' must be understood in a special way). He first made a critique of the field of sociology as he then knew it (up to the 1970s). For example, he argued against the positivsts with:

"The positivist founders of sociology ... failed to realize that human social relations are not given to us as empirical natural facts, as these facts are understood in classical physics. Instead, these relations manifest themselves only in a diversity of typical stsructures. They are intangible and thus cannot be ascertained by the methods of natural science. ... One cannot discern or understand them without the application of norms or criteria of propriety. For the very existence of these social relations depends upon these norms, even though in their actual functioning these relations may conflict with such norms."

He pointed out that, as a reaction against the natural-scientific approach,

"since Max Weber, the natural scientific mode of thought in sociology has been largely eclipsed by a so-called cultural scientific modes of thought. ..."

But he does not see this as the answer. He argued also against the absolutization of the formative aspect as seen in historicism:

"... Yet, important as it may be, this turn of events in sociological thinking has not led to a truly structural-theoretical method of investigation. From the beginning, modern sociology has eliminated the typical structural principles which determine the abiding inner essence of various social relationships. Upon eliminating these principles, most sociologists have taken the historicist position, which is founded on absolutizing the cultural-historic aspect of society. They see society in all its aspects as a product of cultural development. This view leaves no room for constant differences in the nature of the historical and social spheres of life."

At first sight, it would seem that Giddens is within the scope of Dooyeweerd's criticism, in absolutizing the cultural-historic (formative) aspect, but that would mean he eliminates the typical structural principles. However, we have seen that Giddens takes structure seriously, and, under his own analysis, seeks to find a way whereby both structure and action can be 'strong'. Has he succeeded?

Ground Motives Underlying Sociology

After a critique of sociology above, Dooyeweerd argued that such dualisms as Giddens tries to overcome are products of deep ground motives and cannot be overcome by merely trying to "think the poles together" (as he criticized Hegel for trying to do). Instead, Dooyeweerd would suggest that the only way to succeed in overcoming the dualism that results from a ground motive is to adopt a new ground motive. Dooyeweerd himself adopted the motive of Creation-Fall-Redemption, and constructed his theories thereon. It was only this motive that allowed him to postulate a pluralistic nomology of aspects that is proving fruitful in so many spheres. He made this the basis of his own putative theory of social institutions.

Dooyeweerd's Theory of Social Institutions

He showed the ground motives underlying various notions. Then he started to construct a 'creational' approach.

In doing so, he proposed that the range of possible types of social institution is not completely unbounded, but rather is directed by the aspects. He posed the question of what it is that makes a typical family different from a typical firm, a typical religious organization, a typical club, a typical government, etc. It is not helpful, he believed, to assume that they could each be the others; there must be some substantial difference between them. His answer was that each type of social institution can be linked to an aspect (respectively, the ethical, the economic, the pistic, the social, and the juridical in that list). Each main type of social institution that is viable seems to be qualified by one of the aspects.

The implication of Dooyeweerd's approach is, therefore, that the range of basic types of institution is limited to the aspects (though mixes might be possible). This would seem to provide a means of fulfilling what Giddens said was "In respect of sociology, the crucial task of nomological analysis [which] is to be found in the explanation of the structural properties of social systems." Giddens' own attempt to fulfil this task seems to assume that the distinctions between types can be wholly explained from within the social aspect, whereas Dooyeweerd held that such a task requires philosophy that transcends the various scientific arenas. Dooyeweerd seems thus able to account for structure in a way that is not 'vaporous' [Healy 1998].

It may be that what Giddens is reaching for, Dooyeweerd shows the way to. Dooyeweerd's theory of social institutions was not complete when he died, and needs further work to overcome various problems. But it is an interesting contribution, slightly out of kilter with postmodern approaches but none the worse for being so. It may prove a useful start, especially if its insights can be used to inform the work of people like Giddens.

(See also Danie Strauss' comment on Giddens in his discussion on Category Mistake in Opposing Individual to Society.)

Discussion of Structuration Theory

The following is an excerpt of Basden [2018], sections §8-2.3.4 and §8-4.5, and §8-5.3. THey review Structuration Theory from the perspective of information systems and society, and discuss what contribution Dooyeweerd could make. See the book for more.

A Critique of Structuration Theory

Giddens' (1984; 1979) Structuration Theory has become widely cited as a framework with which to understand the relationship between society and individuals ('macro' and 'micro'). In the information systems field, to understand the relationship between individual ICT use and society, and especially organizational structures (treated as society). Widespread use and acceptance of ICT changes the structures of society, while conversely those structures themselves influence ICT development and use.

Giddens saw problems in a subjectivist pole, which celebrates freedom of the individual actor and ignores structures and constraints, opposing an objectivist pole, which draws too heavily on the natural sciences and does not adequately address freedom. He posited a 'duality of structure', in which both can be taken into account with neither seen as primary, with a cyclical relationship, in which societal structures influence the agency of the individuals, while agency results in reconstituting the structures.

Giddens explored the nature of the structuration cycle. He discerned three 'dimensions' of structure: structures of signification, domination and legitimation (or, meaning, power and norms). These operate via three modalities of interpretive schemes, facilities or resources, and norms. They are found in three kinds of agency interactions, as communication, power and sanction (1984; 'morality' in 1979). The three dimensions interleave each other, and cannot be separated in reality but only conceptually separated; for example, language use is itself sanctioned. Thus Giddens goes beyond the hermeneutic turn, which is too attached to signification to do justice to domination and legitimation. 'Signification' to Giddens, refers not only to the semiotic meaning of words (as I use 'signification' here), which occurs in agency, but also to what society as a whole finds meaningful, which constitutes structures of meaning. It is mediated via interpretive schemes, like language and 'stocks of knowledge' (lifeworld).

Giddens warned that his inclusion of power "does not mean that the concept of power is more essential than any other, as is supposed in those versions of social science which have come under a Nietzschean influence." With Parsons, he points out that power is not only negative or inappropriate but has a positive side, of achievement via "transformative capacity ... intent ... will". With Foucault, Giddens recognises that power is also "a property of society or the social community" (Giddens 1984, 15).

Giddens then, however, seems to limit power to allocation of resources (allocative goods and life choices). Resources, he says, are focused by legitimation and signification, into something that knowledgeable people can transform. Giddens' introduction of resources is sudden, with no warning nor any prior justification of why power should be thus limited.

It would seem that, in doing this, Giddens might be presupposing the economic aspect, taking it for granted, and not needing explicit discussion. [That para added; not in book]

Giddens' Structuration Theory has limitations. It is mainly descriptive, with no normativity to differentiate good from bad power, (Myers & Klein 2011). It treats the structures of society as beyond reproach or critique. When considering the impact of ICT on society, do we not need a normative basis on which to critique the structures that ICT is reconstituting?

Even his notion of structure itself has come in for criticism, as "vaporous" (Healy 1998): "important distinctions between structure (as rules and resources), systems (as products of structures) and agents (as mediating producers) all seem to collapse into one another" (Healy 1998, 510). The duality of structure and agency does not reflect all kinds of reality. For example, it is unrealistic to say that lower-status workers in a large car corporation can affect the structures of the corporation. To be fair, Giddens (1984, 263) did acknowledge that structural principles offer only one kind of constraint, but Healy believes Giddens' idea of structure as rules and resources is deeply problematic, though he does not explain why.

Though it is a framework for understanding society, Structuration Theory has been adapted to understand ICT in organizations.

For example, one of my students, Karen Swannack, employed Structuration Theory to study the use of virtual learning environments in universities, by seeing them as providing an interpretive scheme. Faculty staff can upload lecture and other material, while students can communicate and discuss. She studied cultural differences between what students expect and lecturers offer, and how such tensions are resolved by discussions. She discovered that conflict and reflexivity generate new structures, which are then subsumed into 'structure' as a whole, thus adding a chronological element to the structuration cycle.

DeSanctis & Poole (1994) suggested an Adaptive Structuration Theory, to theorize the fact that societal or organizational structures are incorporated into ICT, and thus force or encourage ICT users to work in certain ways. Structures of domination and signification are incorporated explicitly, while structures of legitimation are the values or 'spirit' that underlie these.

Orlikowski (1992) was interested in the unintended repercussions of ICT use, and in unexpected ways in which it is used, sabotaged or avoided, in relation to assumptions held by the organization about ICT. She adds 'interpretive flexibility' of technology alongside structure and agency, whereby human agents design, develop, appropriate and modify technology. However, she does not sufficiently distinguish between repercussions of ICT use (example: adoption of email in an organization increased communication as expected but also reduced status barriers (p.406)) and structurational influence (example: use of spreadsheet reaffirmed rules established by the accountancy profession), nor between users and shapers of ICT. While both Orlikowski and DeSanctis & Poole recognise ICT as conveyor of societal structures, neither discuss ICT as an infrastructure in its own right, nor sufficiently explore the relationship between ICT as conveyor of structures and ICT as artefact in use.

Despite problems, Structuration Theory, with its variants, opens up important insights, especially of the cyclical and dynamic nature of the relationships between agency and structure, and that this has several distinct 'dimensions'. Later I attempt to place it on a firmer foundation than the opposition between subjective and objective that motivated Giddens.

Possible Contributions to Structuration Theory from a Dooyeweerdian View

Dooyeweerd can affirm Giddens' Structuration Theory, outlined in §8-2.3.4, and then allow us to critique and enrich it.

The most basic affirmation is that agency is seen as multi-aspectual functioning, which has repercussions in all aspects, which, in some of the later aspects, constitute the alteration of societal structures, which also affect that functioning. Thus, the structuration cycle.

Aspectual repercussion echoes, and provides philosophical grounding for, Giddens' idea of causation. That multi-aspectual functioning is both governed by aspectual law and shaped by the subject-object-side context, which includes the societal structures, echoes Giddens' idea that structure is not just the "matrix" of things, and not just the set rules, beliefs, etc. that happen to be held by society at any given time, but the deeper laws that enable that holding. It may be that Giddens recognised something of the Dooyeweerdian idea of oceanic law-side, the aspects of which enable things to function and come into existence, and which also defines what is basically good, even if he did not so clearly distinguish it from subject-object-side actuality in the way Dooyeweerd did.

Dooyeweerd can then critique and enrich Giddens' ideas in two ways, to enrich or to replace them.

Replacement is revealed as necessary by the roots of structure-agency duality being in the presumed subjective-objective dualism, which is an expression of the Nature-Freedom ground-motive. Dooyeweerd held this to be false and liable to mislead thinkers. Instead, Dooyeweerd could argue, that simply speaking of functioning in different aspects of human functioning, including the post-social ones is enough, and that reifying these aspects as 'things' is counterproductive. This would explain why Healy (1998) found Giddens' idea of structure to be 'vaporous'.

Then both both structure and agency are aspectual functioning, different aspects in different dimensions. The structures of signification, domination and legitimation may be seen as functioning in three later aspects and the agency thereof in three earlier ones.

By structures of legitimation Giddens means society's collective functioning about what is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, a view of what it is or might be appropriate to hold as social norms or sanctions. Clearly, this is primarily a juridical aspect. The actual sanctioning that occurs among agents bespeaks social agreement (functioning in the social aspect).

Structures of signification are society treating certain things as of ultimate meaningfulness, a background to which reference is made without much question. This is functioning in the pistic aspect. In the meaning dimension, the agency of communication is obviously our functioning in the lingual aspect.

The power dimension is complex because, as Giddens complained, we have been too influenced by Nietzsche, and absolutize power, thus preventing critical examination thereof. Giddens tried valiantly to reverse this absolutization by recognising two aspects of power and situating it alongside other things. Giddens (1984, 15) identifies agency of the power dimension as "transformative capacity ... intent ... will", which are clearly meaningful in the formative aspect. The meaning of structures of domination are clearly of the ethical aspect when we see that he used the negatively-connoted word 'domination' rather than the more neutral 'dominion': Power can be employed, either in selfish pursuit of one's own agenda, or in order to enable and empower others, often with some sacrifice ('giving-away') by the self.

Table 8-3 summarizes this.

Table 8-3. Aspectual Understanding of Giddens' Dimensions of Structure.
DIMENSIONS: Meanings Power Norms
Structure Aspect Pistic Ethical Juridical
STRUCTURE Signification Domination Legitimation
MODALITY Interpretive scheme Facility Norms
INTERACTION Communication Power Sanction
Interaction Aspect   Lingual Formative Social

The structuration cycle is then not so much a cycle as the interwoven coherence of aspects functioning simultaneously -- which supports Giddens' contention that his three dimensions are interleaved. This turns a supposed weakness of Structuration Theory into a strength.

Seeing Structuration Theory in terms of aspects can also reduce the confusion about resources, which, as yet another aspect (economic), need have no special connection with power, but are merely one more aspectual functioning alongside the others. Dooyeweerd (1955,IV, 88) might comment that Giddens does not understand how the economic aspect provides a substratum for the aspects that provide the main norms, the juridical and ethical, because the Immanence Standpoint hindered his attempt to tackle the problem of the relationship between the aspects.

If this interpretation of structuration is valid, and Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects is valid, then we can see a missing aspect, the aesthetic, which is concerned with harmony. The coherence of aspects suggests it might be brought into the theory, perhaps seeing it as a fourth dimension, in which the structure is fashionability or style. This requires thinking out.

That points the way to replacing the agency-structure duality with something more pluralistic. The normativity of aspects brings into Structuration Theory the possibility of normativity that it currently lacks, in a natural way.

However, the duality generated many insights that should not be lost. This may be retained and enriched by reference to Dooyeweerd's theory of existence. The discussion continues in §8-5.3.

§8-5.3 Further Contributions to Structuration Theory

Dooyeweerd's notion of Umwelt and correlative enkapsis can be employed to affirm and enrich the current form of Structuration Theory, even though it may be been motivated into existence by the Nature-freedom ground-motive. Giddens' structures may be seen as the Umwelt and agents, its denizens, with each contributing to the being and functioning of the other in all aspects.

This cyclical relationship may be seen as multi-aspectual. All the aspects discussed in §8-4.5 are still relevant, but within the context of correlative enkapsis. Giddens' three dimensions may be understood as the different ways in which the Umwelt is meaningful or as distinct aspectually-defined Umwelten.

Then the detailed insights that Structuration Theory and its derivatives offer may be understood in terms of aspects of correlative enkapsis, and given philosophical grounding that is stronger than a mere attempt to overcome the subjective-objective divide.

Dooyeweerd does not allow us to consider the correlative relationship in isolation from other enkaptic relationships. In (1955,III,p.652) he gives the example of a farm, in which cows form various organic-biotic enkaptic relationships with each other (copulation, mother-with-young, etc.) while at the same time relating correlatively with their natural environment, and in yet other ways to human structures such as the economic, social and aesthetic functions of the farm. Thus the correlative cyclical relationship in Structuration Theory is not the only player on the stage, and should not be considered in isolation. How it works with other kinds of enkaptic relationship calls for research.

Finally, Dooyeweerd opens up something that I do not think has been discussed, a way to understand not only the intertwinement of each dimension-as-Umwelt with others, but also the interaction between them, which is discussed next.


Basden A. 2017/2018. Foundations of Information Systems: Research and Practice. Routledge. See also .

Dooyeweerd H, (1986) A Christian Theory of Social Institutions, tr. Verbrugge M, The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, La Jolla, California, USA.

Giddens, A. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Polity Press.

Giddens A (1993) New Rules of Sociological Method, Polity Press, page 169.

Healay K. 1998. Conceptualising constraint: Mouzelis, Archer and the concept of social structure. SOCIOLOGY Vol. 32 No. 3 August 1998 509-522.

This page, '', is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

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Copyright (c) at all dates below Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Created: 8 July 2002 Last updated: 27 November 2006 Correlative enkapsis, and some other corrections; unet. 23 June 2010 link to /issues/indiv.soc. 17 February 2011 contents; structural aspects of meaning, power, norms; .nav,.end. 17 August 2013 correction: 'juridical' moved into table cell. 28 March 2015 Giddens reaching for law-side. 31 March 2015 changed 'morality' to 'sanction' in table. 13 May 2015 10 point summary, healy crit. 14 September 2020 pistic, ethical, juridical structures, new .end, .nav, bgcolor. 15 September 2020 trust and respect. 17 September 2020 importance of motivation not just info or rules. 29 June 2023 section on ST from Basden [2018].