Anthony Giddens

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Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens, 2011

Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens (born January 18, 1938 in Edmonton , London ) is a British sociologist .


Giddens was born in Edmonton , a borough in north London , in 1938. He grew up there as the son of an employee of the London public transport company in a family of the lower middle class.

After attending the Minchenden Grammar School , he enrolled in 1956 at the University of Hull in sociology and psychology . He was the first of his family to go to university. In 1959 he completed his bachelor’s degree and switched to the renowned London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) to take up a master’s degree in sociology. He studied at the LSE because at the time it was the only British university with a wide range of sociological subjects. In 1961 he completed his studies there with a sports sociological thesis on "Sport and Society in Contemporary England".

He then took up his position as a lecturer in social psychology at the University of Leicester . There he met the well-known sociologists Norbert Elias and Ilya Neustadt . During this time he began his first own work on the sociology of suicide , which already contained a critique of the sociology of Émile Durkheim . In the academic year 1967/1968 he accepted a visiting professorship at the newly founded Canadian Simon Fraser University and in the academic year 1968/1969 a further visiting professorship at the University of California, Los Angeles . During his American years his theory of structuring began to take shape.

In 1969 he finally returned to England and became a lecturer in sociology at the traditional King's College of the University of Cambridge . There he wrote about Marx , Durkheim and Weber . In 1976 he received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University. with a thesis on interpretative sociology ("New Rules of Sociological Method"). Giddens is co-founder and director of Polity Press Verlag, founded in 1985 . Since 1986 he was a full professor of sociology at Cambridge University. In 1997 he moved to his former alma mater LSE as director . In 2003 he finally retired there.

In June 2004, Giddens was raised to the personal nobility as Baron Giddens , of Southgate in the London Borough of Enfield , and was inducted into the British House of Lords . Since 1999 he has been a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences .

The theory of structuring

Giddens is known for his theory of structuring (see structure (sociology) ), also called structuring theory. This approach to sociology seeks to strike a balance between positions that focus either on social systems or on the individual. In particular, Giddens examines how action can extend over space and time, and for this purpose selects the area of ​​unconsciously controlled everyday action . He argues that individual actions and social structures are closely related to one another, that is, social systems are reflected in every action of an individual. In this way, conclusions about social systems can be drawn from individual behavior.

Social structures such as traditions and institutions influence the individual, but innovation also exists as the structures can be ignored or replaced. With the structuring theory there were more and more cross connections to psychology and social psychology .

In his political sociology , Giddens postulates the so-called “ third way ” between laissez-faire liberalism and socialism . The third way tries to combine the positive aspects of both systems.

He also deals with modernity and its influence on the identity of individuals. He is also known for his statements on globalization and its aspects of risk, tradition and democracy.

With regard to methodological questions in social science, Giddens emphasizes the problem of double hermeneutics . With this concept he refers to the tension between the researchers' self-interpretation and second-order interpretations.

Attempt to integrate into the theoretical tradition

  • Giddens reinterpreted Émile Durkheim , Karl Marx and Max Weber (e.g. 1971: Capitalism and Modern Social Theory),
  • He turned against Talcott Parson's normative order theory and his view, according to which sociology emerged from utilitarianism, instead advocated a political sociology that sees itself as an answer to the crisis of liberalism.
  • Giddens dealt with the class theories of Karl Marx and Max Weber (1973: The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies) and combined them in his structuring theory .
  • Since the mid-1970s he has dealt with ethnomethodology , symbolic interactionism and German critical theory without relying on the writings of the pragmatists or symbolic interactionists in his works .
  • In 1984 Giddens published a two-volume systematic and socio-historical work in which modernity, political power and war are the key themes (1984: The Constitution of Society. Outline of the Theory of Structuration).
  • With an 800-page textbook (1989: Sociology) he introduces a series of more popular sociological works on modernity and identity.
  • From the mid-80s, Giddens worked as a political advisor together with Tony Blair for the " Third Way " (1994: Beyond Left and Right. The Future of Radical Politics. 1998: The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy)

Aspects of the work

Critique of Utopian Realism

Going beyond the key concept of “structuring”, Anthony Giddens wrote in his 1991 books “The Consequences of Modernity” and “Modernity & Self-Identity. Self & Society in the Late Modern Age “tries, on the one hand, to profile modernity and globalization as the guiding principles of every sociological diagnosis of the time and to bundle them into four institutional globalization fields and basic modernity risks: Increase in uncontrolled totalitarian power and nuclear danger; Collapse of every growth economy and environmental disaster. On the other hand, he linked his approach with a view to the acting individual.

Double hermeneutics

Anthony Giddens differentiates between an implicit (habitual, unreflected, routine) knowledge in a sphere of practical consciousness and a sphere of scientific, discursive knowledge. This discursive knowledge is suitable for any theoretical-scientific approach as a kind of practical activity with its own tacit knowledge. From this perspective, the problematic is the discourse of actions and expressions of practical consciousness.

For this purpose, the researcher must first be open to this non-discursive knowledge, ie he must first grasp the everyday concepts of the researched. Then he can analyze, reconstruct and understand them. However, these reconstructions can in turn become part of the implicit interpretation patterns, worldviews and everyday life. This means that the genuinely sociological terms can easily "slip" into the practical consciousness of those researched. The discursive knowledge of the researcher is then reproduced in the looks, the smile or the tactful passing over of the researched. An original or authentic use of discursive knowledge is therefore impossible. Examples of this fact are terms such as “power”, “rule” or “system”, which are used in everyday language as well as in scientific use.

For this reason, Giddens sees social science in a reflexive tension to its subject: "as a potential instrument for expanding the rational autonomy of action , but in the same way also as a potential instrument of domination ." (Giddens 1984: 196) The aim of double hermeneutics is therefore also the explanation of the production and reproduction of society as the result of human action (cf. Giddens: 200) 1984.

Action theory

  1. Action can only be divided into individual subsections in retrospect; in actu it consists of durée , a continuous stream of behavior.
  2. The liquid action are no clear goals or value orientations upstream rather make these goals often only in action . Intentionality is therefore no longer to be thought of as taking precedence over action, but rather as the ability to reflexive self-control in the process of action itself. Thus, it in turn contributes to awareness and remains revisable.
  3. Action not only precedes the development of an intention that can only be grasped reflexively, but is also guided by routines and preconscious impulses that enable autonomy to act. The opposite of this, complete absence of routines or impulses, consists in a standstill.
  4. Preconscious body control ( empraxis ) and action are inextricably linked - the dualism of body and mind is no longer applicable.
  5. Co-presence then means, which recognizes the centrality of the human body in the interaction, the awareness of being seen and knowing that one's own seeing is also observed by the other person.
  6. Unintended consequences of action make the talk of stable system states and any functionalist order theory highly problematic.

Structuring theory

The concept of structuring can be understood on the basis of the fact “that historically and empirically one can only speak of fixed classes and class boundaries very rarely , but mostly variable 'levels' of class formation exist. Their variability depends on the production methods of society as well as on the possibly changing intergenerational mobility. "

With his interpretations of Karl Marx , Émile Durkheim and Max Weber and against the background of a real analysis of industrial society, Giddens tries to structure society. In contrast to Talcott Parsons , who advocates timeless theoretical approaches in his work Structure of Social Action , Giddens also wants to include the subjectivity of the actors and the reflexivity of sociology in his system design. Neither voluntarism nor determinism, which one-sidedly restrict the subject or the structure, should be given preference.

  1. In his search for structuring, starting from micro- to macro-sociology, he falls back on the subjects' ability to reflect and act, which he decentered following French structuralists ( Michel Foucault , Jacques Derrida ) without “eliminating the subject from the decentering of the subject To do this, Giddens takes into account the temporality and spatiality of human existence and all phenomena as their central characteristic (cf. Martin Heidegger ). Giddens calls the reproduction and production of a network of spatiotemporal actions the system .
  2. With structure Giddens refers to the relationships of shared rules and distributed resources. However, this leads to the dissolution of the dichotomy power - freedom, because it focuses on dynamic social structures that “arise and disappear and are continuously changed by the actors.” Structures also have an inherent duality. In everyday language it consists in the equality of a dictatorship of structures with the dictatorship of the conformist. These structures as well as the adapted ones have a restrictive effect on the one hand, but enable action on the other. On the one hand, they seem to be firmly established and reproduced, transform the agents, but are also transformed by the agents on the other (duality of structure).

Accordingly, the problem of Giddens' structuring theory is not the conflict of interests, but the granting of order and transcendence of narrow temporal and spatial boundaries.

Power theory

Power does not, as Max Weber's definition suggests, indicate a problem of distribution. Because it can be both accumulated and produced, ” without one of those involved in a power relationship having to lose.

Like Hannah Arendt , Giddens also connects power with action because both mean: “To be able to 'act differently' means to be able to intervene in the world or to refrain from such intervention, with the result a specific process or condition. " (Giddens 1988: 65) Accordingly, even in total institutions it is difficult to imagine situations of powerlessness, because there too the powerful are dependent on the cooperation of the ruled, that is, at least two parties are always involved in power processes.

  • Power resources

Giddens differentiates the multidimensionality of the concept of power resulting from action and power into various resources, on the one hand allocative (e.g. economic) resources and on the other hand authoritative (e.g. political, military or knowledge) resources.

  • Means of power

According to Giddens, power over spatial and temporal distances is guaranteed by means of storage and networking technologies. As he has shown using the example of historical Mesopotamian society, writing and the information fixed in it play an inevitable role in surveillance.


  • Joas sees it as problematic that Giddens did not perform a typology of action. For he sees democratization processes not only explained in the sense of Giddens by a dialectic of power and counterpower, but also by their cultural embedding (cf. Joas: 424f.). As the democratization attempt by Iraq seems to confirm in 2004.
  • Giddens power theory, inspired by Foucault, also manages without the connection between power and justification. Then where do the normative ideas that are inherited in democratic tradition aim? (Joas 1992: 23)
  • Because Giddens breaks radically with functionalism and, for reasons of his theory of action, cannot allow linear evolutionism, he advocates an understanding of history and change called 'episodic'. "There is no key that could open up access to the secrets of human social development for us by reducing them to a uniform scheme, or that could explain the most important transitions between different social forms in such a perspective." (Giddens 1988 : 300) Insofar as people always insure themselves of their history and try to see a meaning in it, i.e. interpret the past in the light of a pre-designed future for the purpose of controlling the present, people try to secure their continuities. The different pasts have to be integrated (cf. Joas 2004: 429). Is there a third thing besides evolutionism and Giddens episodism?
  • In his structuring theory, Giddens refers to Heidegger's concept of temporality and thus separates himself from the tradition of social research. Heidegger's Daseins-Analytik can only be carried out through an anthropologization directed against Heidegger's own intentions or the adoption of Heidegger's conception of a history of being. Does the inadequate anthropological foundation have consequences for the architecture of Giddens' approach or does it only describe a neglected subject area?



  • Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. 1971.
  • Politics and Sociology in the Thought of Max Weber. 1972.
  • The Class Structure of Advanced Societies. 1973.
    • German: The class structure of advanced societies. translated by Cora Stephan. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1979
  • New Rules of Sociological Method. 1976.
    • German: Interpretative Sociology. translated by Wolfgang Föste. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York, 1984.
  • Political Theory. 1977.
  • Emile Durkheim. 1978.
  • Central Problems in Social Theory. 1979.
  • A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. 1981.
  • Sociology. 1982. a popular introductory text in the discipline, also published in German:
    • German: sociology. translated after the 3rd engl. Edition (1997) by Hans Georg Zilian. Nauser and Nauser, Graz / Vienna 1999, ISBN 3-901402-22-5 .
    • Revised: Sociology. no translation of the English edition, but rather edited by Christian Fleck and Mariana Egger de Campo in consultation with the author Giddens for German-speaking readers. Nauser and Nauser, Graz / Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-901402-16-6 .
  • Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory. 1983.
  • The Constitution of Society, Outline of the Theory of Structure. Polity Press, Cambridge 1984, ISBN 0-7456-0006-9 .
  • The Nation-State and Violence. 1985.
  • The Consequences of Modernity. 1990.
  • Modernity and Self-Identity. Self & Society in the Late Modern Age. Polity Press, 1991, ISBN 0-7456-0932-5 .
  • The Utopian Paradigm. In: Communications. 3, 1991, pp. 283-318.
  • The Transformation of Intimacy. 1992.
  • Critical Theory of the Late Modern Age. Passagen-Verlag, Vienna 1992, ISBN 3-900767-78-5 . (based on a lecture that Giddens gave in Vienna)
  • Beyond Left and Right. 1994.
    • German: Beyond left and right: the future of radical democracy. translated by Joachim Schulte. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1997
  • The Third Way, The Renewal of Social Democracy. Polity Press, Cambridge 1998, ISBN 0-7456-2266-6 .
    • German: The third way. translated by Bettina Engels and Michael Adrian. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1999, ISBN 3-518-41044-X .
  • Runaway World. 1999, 2000.
  • The Third Way and its Critics. 2000.
    • German: The question of social inequality. translated by Bettina Engels and Michael Adrian. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2004, ISBN 3-518-41226-4 .
  • Sociology. 2001. Society types
  • as editor: The Global Third Way Debate. 2001.
  • Where Now for New Labor? 2002.
  • as editor: The Progressive Manifesto. 2003.


  • The journey is the goal. The sociologist Anthony Giddens on Bush's mild conservatism. In: SZ. November 7, 2000.
  • The third modern. In: taz . May 27, 2006.



Web links

Commons : Anthony Giddens  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Andreas Reckwitz: Anthony Giddens. In: Dirk Kaesler (Ed.): Classics of Sociology. Volume II: From Talcott Parsons to Anthony Giddens. 5th, revised, updated and expanded edition. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-42089-4 , pp. 311-337.
  2. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724. Anthony Giddens. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed August 18, 2015 .
  3. A. Giddens: Interpretative Sociology. A critical introduction. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1984.
  4. ^ H. Joas, W. Knöbl: Social theory. Twenty introductory lectures. 2004, p. 407f.
  5. ^ H. Joas, W. Knöbl: Social theory. Twenty introductory lectures. 2004, p. 4011f.
  6. ^ H. Joas, W. Knöbl: Social theory. Twenty introductory lectures. 2004, p. 402f. see. also A. Giddens: The class structure of advanced societies. 1979, p. 128f.
  7. H. Joas: A sociological transformation of the philosophy of practice - Giddens' theory of structuring. Introduction. In: A. Giddens: The constitution of society. Outlines of a theory of structuring. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1992, p. 12.
  8. ^ H. Joas, W. Knöbl: Social theory. Twenty introductory lectures. 2004, p. 403.
  9. ^ H. Joas, W. Knöbl: Social theory. Twenty introductory lectures. 2004, p. 416.
  10. A. Giddens: The constitution of society. Outlines of a theory of structuring. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1988.
  11. Perhaps Habermas' program of a normative development logic is an appropriate alternative. See J. Habermas: On the reconstruction of historical materialism. 1976, p. 69, footnote 2, note 4.
  12. ^ H. Joas: Introduction. In: The constitution of society. 1992, p. 18f.
  13. ^ Fudan Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences: Anthony Giddens