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Anthony Giddens:
Left or right ... or what?

Cool classical

Giddens is excellent, because he combines an old-school, 'classical' sociological style with a very contemporary awareness of changes in society, and he is happy to mix new theories with more established sociological perspectives. He was born in 1938, but doesn't fit into a category of older, conservative men. He hasn't tried to marginalise the impact of feminism in his understanding of society, and considers change in gender relations to be important.

On the side of the angels

Giddens would not deny that Marx was very important in the development of 'social science', and his instincts seem to be the nice-to-other-people ones which can be found at the theoretical heart of 'the left'. But he is frustrated at the left/right divide in social analysis, and these days is identified as one of the architects of the 'third way', which Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder are supposedly interested in - although Giddens's idea of it seems to be more original and complex than Blair's mix of left and right traditions (see Giddens's The Third Way: The renewal of social democracy (1998), The Third Way and its Critics (2000)).

In sociology there has been a long-standing divide between those theorists who prioritise 'macro level' studies of social life - looking at the 'big picture' of society - and those who emphasise the 'micro level' - what everyday life means to individuals. Giddens always had an interesting relationship with this dichotomy. He seemed to admire Durkheim's preference for broad statements about society and sociology itself (his 1976 treatise on methodology even bore the cheekily grand Durkheim-style title New Rules of Sociological Method). But Giddens rejects Durkheim's idea that we should be able to identify laws which will predict how societies will operate, without looking at the meanings understood by individual actors in society. Giddens is here much closer to the other 'grandfather' of sociology, Weber, who argued that individuals' own accounts of social action were paramount. But Giddens recognised that both perspectives had value - and since the 'macro' and 'micro' levels of social life naturally feed into each other, you shouldn't have to choose between them. So he came up with the theory of 'structuration,' which bridges this divide.


Next on Giddens: The theory of structuration.
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This is only an edited and simplified version of material which will appear in this book.

Please don't use this text without this credit.

© David Gauntlett 2002.