Seeing institutions in different ways
Seeing institutions in different ways

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Seeing institutions in different ways

2.1 Structure and action

Sociologists have long struggled with what it is that influences and determines the way people behave. To simplify matters enormously, I can say there are two basic approaches:

  • the ‘structural’ approach, which holds that social structures – such as the family we are born into, the schools we go to, the political parties available for us to join, the jobs market, the media – which are just ‘there’, determine people’s actions; and
  • the ‘action’ approach, which holds that people interpret the world, internalise it and endlessly remake it – making choices, acting on the structures, and thereby changing them.

The two views are not separate or oppositional (though, in the history of sociology, there has been fierce debate between them). Engberg-Pedersen argues that whilst institutions – which, as you will gather, can be seen as structures – give meaning to action they ‘should not be viewed as external constraints’ on social actors. They do not determine in any absolute sense how people behave. Actors are not ‘cultural dopes’: they have the capacity to reflect on the institutional context and act on the basis of their reflections.

This is a premise that informs our approach to institutional development. But we take it a step further. Not only do people – more specifically, development managers – have the capacity to reflect on the institutional context, they have an obligation to do so. This is a necessary contribution to institutional development.

TU872_2

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371