, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 354-366
Date: 19 Apr 2013

Agency on the Move: Revisioning the Route to Social Change

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Abstract

Throughout the course of everyday life individuals enter into interactions in which an intricate relationship between agency and subordination can be observed: they sometimes act agentively and at other times—via discursive and/or interpersonal processes—their agency is reduced to objectness. Thus, theoretically we can think of constant dynamics of transfer of agency. It is argued that the transfer of agency between persons (or groups) is a fundamental quality of the societal discourses in which all persons are constituted. This transfer of agency occurs constantly throughout social interaction and at different levels of social functioning as individuals live and make meaning of their experiences. In light of this perspective, it is suggested that social change movements that aim to interrupt the transfer of agency and instead fix agency with one person (or one group of people) are inadequate. Rather, these movements can actually subvert their own agenda by producing problematic tensions in discourse and subjectivity. The self-defense movement, a component of the movement to end violence against women, is presented as a case study. The problematic and tension-filled positions and meanings the movement (re)produces for women are explored as an effect of denying any transfer of agency between women and men around issues of violence and gender oppression.