The “Actors” of Modern Society: The Cultural Construction of Social Agency

  • Meyer J
  • Jepperson R
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Abstract

Much social theory takes for granted the core conceit of modern culture, that modern actors—individuals, organizations, nation states—are autochthonous and natural enti- ties, no longer really embedded in culture. Accordingly, while there is much abstract metatheory about “actors” and their “agency,” there is arguably little theory about the topic. This article offers direct arguments about how the modern (European, now glo- bal) cultural system constructs the modern actor as an authorized agent for various interests via an ongoing relocation into society of agency originally located in tran- scendental authority or in natural forces environing the social system. We see this authorized agentic capability as an essential feature of what modern theory and culture call an “actor,” and one that, when analyzed, helps greatly in explaining a number of otherwise anomalous or little analyzed features of modern individuals, organizations, and states. These features include their isomorphism and standardization, their inter- nal decoupling, their extraordinarily complex structuration, and their capacity for pro- lific collective action.

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Authors

  • John W. Meyer

  • Ronald L. Jepperson

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