System and Action Synthesis

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System and Action Synthesis

There have been constant attempts to produce a coherent unified theory, which deals with structure and action. Here are two examples. The first is an attempt to combine Durkheim's argument that social facts have an existence independent of individuals, and Weber's argument that social organization is a product of individual social action. The argument, below, is that both are true:

In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann present an approach, which incorporates both the view that individuals create society and the view that society creates individuals.

System and Action Synthesis

They imagine two pre-societal persons - A and B - who interact with each other without the benefit of any social roles, expectations, or other socially induced constraints. Each watches the other act and typifies the actions as recurrent after a time. Each develops views about the other and acts on the basis of the expectations they have about probable responses of the other. In this way, they begin to play roles with regard to each other. Now their behaviour is predictable and each begins to see his/her role as fixed. What is happening here is the social construction of reality. Individuals are creating, in interaction with others, a view of how things are.

Knowledge has been created by A and B, but if it is to survive over time, institutionalization must take place. This can only occur with the appearance of a new generation - C and D - who are socialized into the roles created by A and B. C and D had no part in the shaping of social reality and as far as they are concerned they are in a given role and have simply to accept it. For C and D the institutions are there, external to him/her, persistent in the reality, whether s/he likes it or not.

Even for A and B, the sets of roles created by them are solidified by the presence of C and D because they have to teach them how things are done. Here we see the merging of two philosophical traditions; while society and the knowledge it contains are human products independently created, they are also external realities that impose themselves on individuals.

Giddens refer to 'structuration' and the 'duality of structure'. He argues that we cannot isolate structure and action from each other. Or rather, perhaps we can separate them, but only in theory. In social life, they are bound together as indistinguishably as hydrogen and oxygen are bound together in water. Giddens wants to understand social life as a process in which structure has a dual nature. On the one hand, it is a result of action; we create, we maintain or transform them in some way. On the other hand, structure is what enables us to act at all.