The question of progressive agency

Summer 2019
DOI: 10.3898/SOUN.72.03.2019

This article revisits debates about agency: what and where are the forces and agents that might bring about change? In the past liberals and socialists broadly shared a belief in social enlightenment and progress, but liberals believed that this could be achieved gradually, through education, while Marxists believed that self-organisation by the working class was the way forward. A third, more recent, approach argues that changes in information technology are making it possible for society to shift from hierarchical to lateral patterns of connection. These three different approaches to agency are critically discussed. Among the thinkers discussed are Karl Marx, Raymond Williams, Eric Hobsbawm, Robin Murray, Manuel Castells, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The rethinking and renewal of institutions that modern societies now need calls for deep engagement with these issues, and both ‘new’ and ‘old’ conceptions of agency are relevant to this task.

Part of the Critical Terms series. 

Soundings 72 Agency and change