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Understanding the exercise of agency within structural inequality: the case of personal debt

  • Michael Orton (a1)
Abstract

This article contributes to debates about agency (meaning the behaviour of individuals) and structure, by drawing on empirical research into personal debt. Consideration of debt allows for debate about agency and structure beyond the narrow confines of welfare, and for the examination of agency in relation to citizens at different points in the broader socio-economic structure, not solely poor people. Based on the research findings, themselves grounded in interviewees' experience, the question of why two people in the same material circumstances will have different experiences becomes reframed as why two people whose exercise of agency is the same, face very different outcomes? It is argued that while the research supports a ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’ approach to understanding agency and structure, a ‘both-and’ approach still does not fully capture the experience of interviewees. The key point is that the exercise of agency is overlaid onto structural inequality, and it is understanding the exercise of ‘agency within structure’ that is critical.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

A. Deacon and K. Mann (1999), ‘Agency, modernity and social policy’, Journal of Social Policy, 28, 3, 413–35.

M. Doble (2000), ‘A regulatory policy for self-disconnection: an examination of the reasons for and implications of pre-payment meter stoppages’, Policy Studies, 21, 3, 229–43.

C. Grover (2007), ‘The Freud Report on the future of welfare to work: some critical reflections’, Critical Social Policy, 27, 4, 534–45.

J. Le Grand (2003), Motivation, Agency, and Public Policy: Of Knights and Knaves, Pawns and Queens, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

M. Orton (2004), ‘Irresponsible citizens? New Labour, citizenship and the case of non-payment of local taxation’, Critical Social Policy, 24, 4, 504–25.

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Social Policy and Society
  • ISSN: 1474-7464
  • EISSN: 1475-3073
  • URL: /core/journals/social-policy-and-society
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