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Are actors free ?

Dissertation : Are actors free ?. Rechercher de 49 000+ Dissertation Gratuites et Mémoires

Par   •  5 Octobre 2021  •  Dissertation  •  1 071 Mots (5 Pages)  •  31 Vues

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There have always been numerous attempts to understand why individuals act as they do, and whether or not society as a whole, has an impact on these actions. Calling these individuals “social actors”, conveys the presence of society and the fact that they can also constitute a group, within society. A multitude of views exist, but they tend to be divisible into two categories: the social action view, and the structural view. While the structural view supports the idea that society and its structure impact all the individuals in a way which will coordinate their actions, the social action view contradicts this by highlighting how each person acts separately from society. Thus, the two major views may further be split between the macro view (focusing on the impact of the whole on people), and the micro view (focusing on the independence of the individual’s actions from the macro society). Evaluating the difference between these two is essential to reach a proper grasp on the matter of freedom or not, of social actors.


            The structural theory aims at understanding that people are not independent. Indeed, people act following the norms and values they have been taught because they live in a social space where everything is structured.

Functionalism is a consensus, deterministic and structural theory. It first emerged during the 19th century in Europe and was based on the ideas of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. It focuses on the macro-level of the social structure, rather than the micro-level of everyday life. Functionalism sees society as a stable, harmonious and integrated system, with social order and cohesion which is maintained through value consensus and thus allows the survival of society. Functionalists believe that relationships between members of society are organized based on a set of rules that stipulate how people are expected to behave. Social actors are not free because their behaviour is structured by major institutions such as family, economy and education. However, internal critics appear in as much as dysfunctions can occur in society leading to a social structure that does not work as intended. On the other hand, external critics declare that, as it is seen as a deterministic theory, social actors are represented as passive products of a social system that controls behaviour which are predictable. Furthermore, Marxism, which is a consensus and conflict theory claims that it downplays inequalities and the unequal distribution of power. Therefore, a functionalist society is a society awaiting for its social actors to adapt their norms for it to function. 


As George Herbert Mead said, “an individual is part of a society if he imitates the language of the community”. In other words, actors tend to act in terms of their self-concept. This corresponds to the picture that individuals form upon themselves which has an important influence on their actions. It’s about the unprepared and organized responses to the self and attitudes of others. Therefore, it suggests that individuals don’t have to follow the norms. Social interaction is a face-to-face process consisting of actions, reactions, and mutual adaptation between individuals. Hence, social actors are then able to behave freely to shape society. Indeed, interactions are not predetermined since they rely on the context in which they take place.

However, interactionists also emphasize the fact that humans derive from a specific social construction built around the interactions that they experience. Instead of looking at social systems in a collective view, interactionism focuses on the small-scale interactions amongst people. It analyses the conscious decisions made regarding behaviours and how people interpret various situations thus basing the theory on the meaning of their actions. In other words, we are social actors and must adjust our social behaviours because we want people to perceive us in a certain way or whatever is ideal at the moment. Those adaptations made by individuals to their personalities, for example, show that in the end, people are not the masters of their own choices to their fullest extent. They act depending on how others do.


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