Andrea Marcelli and Giovanni Pasquali
Overcoming the Agency-Structure Dualism: A Foucauldian Perspective
Starting from humanism conceived as a form of modernist thought, this paper addresses the question of its suitability as a criterion for further theory evaluation in the fields of social and political theory. After an introducing the role of humanism as an ideology, in the first part of this paper Durkheim‟s conception of a social structure is compared with that of other authors which challenge his position by recognizing the problem of the individual conceived as an agent of social change. With references to Rousseau’s concept of ‘human’, it is shown how Durkheim’s analysis understands sociability as a process of individuation – humanization, according to humanists. In the second part, humanism is revealed as an ideology. This is possible thanks to Foucault‟s historical assessment of how cultures change throughout history. Such a view brings in a new conception of the individual, which is not anymore seen as an entity opposed to the social structure he belongs to, but as an ongoing process that takes into account different relations with other things and beings. Thus, wiping out the dualism of the agency-structure debate, such a challenge is taken to a different discursive ground, since defining an individual – and specifically defining her as a human being – does not mean finding some absolute character she possesses, but being aware of the network of relations that identify her agency in a discursive field; such a network, though, is made possible only starting from a set of practices and technologies. Shifting to a conceptual ground the description of the agency of the individual in a society means recognizing that social theory might be profitable only if epistemologically addressed: evaluating it on the basis of a set of prescriptions (such as humanism) means making the explanation dependent on one of the processes it is supposed to analyze.