Structuration theory

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Structuration theory



Alternate name(s)

Theory of structuration, Structurationism

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Structure (signification, domination, legitimation), social system.

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Modalities (interpretive scheme, facilities or resources, norms or rules); interactions (communication, power, sanction); consciousness (discursive, practical, unconsciousness); knowledgeability.

Concise description of theory

In a number of articles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in the publication of The Constitution of Society in 1984, British sociologist Anthony Giddens developed the theory of structuration, which addressed fundamental problems in the social sciences in a way that was unconventional at the time. Moreover, he provided an account of the constitution of social life that departed from and challenged established theoretical positions and traditions (Cohen 1989). Structuration theory drew significant attention, and numerous books and papers promptly emerged discussing, scrutinizing, supporting or criticizing Giddens’s ideas. A number of comprehensive and authoritative texts on the topic already exist (e.g. Cohen 1989; Giddens 1976, 1984, 1989, 1990; Giddens and Pierson 1998; Held and Thompson 1989).

The duality of structure: The relationship between agency and structure is among the most pervasive and difficult issues in social theory. How are actions of individual agents related to the structural features of society? How are actions structured in everyday contexts? How are the structured features of actions reproduced? To examine the dualism between structure and agency, Giddens departed from the conceptualization of structure as some given or external form. Structure is what gives form and shape to social life, but it is not itself the form and shape. Structure exists only in and through the activities of human agents (Giddens 1989: 256). Similarly, he departed from the idea of agency as something just ‘contained’ within the individual. Agency does not refer to people’s intentions in doing things but rather to the flow or pattern of people’s actions. Giddens deeply reformulated the notions of structure and agency, emphasizing that ‘action, which has strongly routinized aspects, is both conditioned by existing cultural structures and also creates and recreates those structures through the enactment process’ (Walsham 1993: 34). He suggested that while structural properties of societies and social systems are real, they have no physical existence. Instead, they depend upon regularities of social reproduction (Giddens and Pierson 1998). As a consequence, the basic domain of study in the social sciences consists of social practices ordered across space and time (Giddens 1984: 2).

Structuration theory and information technology: Structuration theory is a general theory of the social sciences; in its original formulation, ST pays little attention to technology (Jones 1997). However, given the pervasiveness of technology in organizations’ everyday operations, and especially the role of information technology in the process of enactment and reality construction in contemporary organizations, some attempts have been made to extend Giddens’s ideas by including an explicit IT dimension in social analysis (Walsham 1993, 2002). As a result of such attempts, structurationist analyses have helped to increase our understanding of important IT-based contemporary phenomena. Some recent examples are studies on electronic trading and work transformation in the London insurance market (Barrett and Walsham 1999); globalization issues and IT deployment in India and Britain (Nicholson and Sahay 2001; Walsham and Sahay 1999); the dynamics of groupware application (Ngwenyama 1998); communication and collaboration using IT (Olesen and Myers 1999); global virtual team dynamics and effectiveness (Maznevski and Chudoba 2000); and crosscultural software production and use (Walsham 2002).

Source: Pozzebon, Marlei & Pinsonneault, Alain. “Challenges in Conducting Empirical Work Using Structuration Theory: Learning from IT Research”, Organization Studies, 26 (9), pp.1353-1376, 2005.

Diagram/schematic of theory

Structure Signification Domination Legitimation
Modality Interpretive scheme Facility Norm
Interaction Communication Power Sanction
Structure(s) System(s) Structuration
Rules and resources, or set of transformation relations, organized as properties of social systems Reproduced relations between actors or collectivises, organized as regular social practices Conditions governing the continuity or transmutation of structures, and therefore the reproduction of social systems

Source: Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Originating author(s)

Anthony Giddens

Seminal articles

Cohen, I.J. (1989). Structuration Theory: Anthony Giddens and the Constitution of Social Life. St Martin’s Press, New York, 1989.

Giddens, A. (1976). New Rules of Sociological Method, Basic Books, Hutchinson/New York.

Giddens, A. (1979). Central Problems in Social Theory. London: Macmillan.

Giddens, A. (1981). Agency, Institution, and Time-Space Analysis. In: Advances in Social Theory and Methodology. Toward An Integration of Micro- and Macro-Sociologies. Knorr-Cetina, K. and Cicourel, A.V. (Eds.). Routledge & Kegan Paul, Boston.

Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Giddens, A. (1990). The Consequences of Modernity, Standford University Press, Standford.

Giddens, A. and Pierson, C. (1998). Conversations with Anthony Giddens – Making Sense of Modernity. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Held, D. and Thompson, J.B. (1989) Social Theory of Modern Societies, Anthony Giddens and his Critics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Turner, J.H. (1991). Structuration Theory. In The Structure of Sociological Theory, Giddens, A., Wadsworth.

Originating area

Social sciences

Level of analysis

From individual to macro and from macro to individual. con== IS articles that use the theory == Barley, S.R. (1986). Technology as an Occasion for Structuring: Evidence from Observation of CT Scanners and the Social Order of Radiology Departments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31: 78-108.

Barley, S.R. (1990). Images of Imaging: Notes on Doing Longitudinal Field Work. Organization Science, 1: 220-242.

Barley, S.R and Tolbert, P.S. (1997). Institutionalization and structuration: studying the links between action and institution. Organization Studies 18 (1): 93-118.

Barrett, M. and Walsham, G. (1999) Electronic trading and work transformation in the London Insurance Market. Information Systems Research 10 (1): 1-21.

Brooks, L. (1997), Structuration Theory and New Technology: Analysing Organisationally Situated Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Information Systems Journal, 7, pp. 133-151.

Davidson, E.J. (2002). Technology Frames and Framing: a Socio-cognitive Investigation of Requirements Determination. MIS Quarterly, 26 (4): 329-358.

DeSanctis, G. and Poole, M.S. (1994). Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory. Organization Science, 5 (2): 121-147.

Heracleous, L. and Barrett, M. (2001). Organizational Change as Discourse: Communicative Actions and Deep Structures in the Context of Information Technology Implementation. Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4): 755-778.

Jones, M. (1997) ‘Structuration theory and IT,’ in Re-thinking Management Information Systems. Currie and Galliers (eds.), 103-135. Oxford.

Jones, M. and Karsten, H. (2003). Review: structuration theory and information systems research’. WP 11/03. Judge Institute Working Papers, University of Cambridge, 87 pages.

Jones, M., Orlikowski, W. and Munir, K. (2004) "Structuration theory and information." In Mingers, J. and Willcocks, L. (eds.): Social theory and philosophy for information systems. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, pp.297-328

Karsten, H. (1995) Converging paths to notes – in search of computer-based information systems in a networked company.’ Information Technology & People 8 (1): 7-34.

Lea, M.; O’Shea, T. and Fung, P. (1995) Constructing the networked organization: content and context in the development of electronic communications. Organization Science 6 (4): 462-478.

Lyytinen, K. and Ngwenyama, O.K. (1992). What does computer support for co-operative work mean? A structurational analysis of computer supported co-operative work. Accounting, Management and Information Technology. 2 (1): 19-37.

Majchrzak, A. et al. (2000). Technology adaptation: the case of a computer-supported interorganizational virtual team, MIS Quarterly 24 (4): 569-600.

Maznevski, M. and Chudoba, K.M. (2000) Bridging space over time: global virtual team dynamics and effectiveness. Organization Science 11 (5): 473-492.

McPhee, R.D., and Poole, M.S. (2002) Structures and configurations, In The New Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Method. Frederic M. Jablin and Linda L. Putnam (eds.). Sage.

Montealegre, R. (1997). The interplay of information technology and the social milieu. Information Technology & People 10 (2): 106-131.

Newman, M. and Robey, D. 1992. A Social Process Model of User-analyst Relationships. MIS Quarterly, 16 (2): 249-266.

Ngwenyama, O.N. (1998). Groupware, Social Action and Organizational Emergence: on the Process Dynamics of Computer Mediated Distributed Work. Accounting, Management and Information Technology. 8: 127-146

Ngwenyama, O. (1998). Groupware, social action and organizational emergence: on the process dynamics of computer mediated distributed work. Accounting, Management and Information Technology: 127-146.

Nicholson, B. and Sahay, S. (2001). Some political and cultural issues in the globalization of software development: case experience from Britain and India. Information and Organization 11: 25-43.

Olesen, K. and Myers, M.D. (1999). Trying to improve communication and collaboration with information technology – an action research project which failed. Information Technology & People 12 (4): 317-332.

Orlikowski, W.J. (1992). The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, 3 (3), 398-427.

Orlikowski, W.J. (1993). CASE Tools as Organizational Change: Investigating Increment. MIS Quarterly, 17 (3), 309-340.

Orlikowski, W.J. (1996). Improvising Organizational Transformation over Time: a Situated Change Perspective. Information Systems Research, 7 (1), 63-92.

Orlikowski, W. J. (2000) Using Technology and Constituting Structures: a Practice Lens for Studying Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, 11 (4), 404-428

Orlikowski, W. and Barley, S.R. (2001). Technology and institutions: what can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other? MIS Quarterly 25 (2): 245-265.

Orlikowski, W.J. and Hofman, J.D. 1997. An Improvisational Model for Change Management: the Case of Groupware. Sloan Management Science, 38 (2), 11-21.

Orlikowski, W.J. and Robey, D. 1991. Information Technology and the Structuring of Organizations. Information Systems Research, 2 (2), 143-169.

Orlikowski, W.J. and Yates, J. 1994. Genre Repertoire: the Structuring of Communicative Practices in Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39 (4), 541-574.

Orlikowski, W.J. et al. (1995) Shaping Electronic Communication: the Metastructuring of Technology in the Context of Use. Organization Science, 6 (4), 423-444.

Phang, C. W., and Kankanhalli, A. "Organizational Culture, Learning, Politics, and Institutions: A Structurational Framework of IT-Induced Organizational Change," in Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Systems, 11-14th December 2005, Las Vegas .

Pozzebon, M. and Pinsonneault, A. (2005). Global-local Negotiations for Implementing Configurable Packages: the Power of Initial Organizational Decisions”, Journal of Strategic Information Systems, Special Issue Understanding the Contextual Influences on Enterprise System Implementation, (Part II), 14 (2): 121-145.

Pozzebon, M. and Pinsonneault, A. (2005). Challenges in Conducting Empirical Work Using Structuration Theory: Learning from IT Research, Organization Studies, 26 (9): 1353-1376.

Ranson, S., Hinings, B. and Greenwood, R. (1980). The Structuring of Organizational Structures. Administrative Science Quarterly, 25, 1-17.

Rose, Jeremy (2002). Interaction, transformation and information systems development – an extended application of soft systems methodology. Information Technology and People 15 (3): 242-268.

Sahay, S. (1997). Implementation of Information Technology: a Time-space Perspective. Organization Studies, 18 (2), 229-260.

Sahay, S. (1998). Implementation of GIS technology in India: some issues of time and space. Accounting, Management and Information technologies 8 (2-3): 147-188.

Sahay, S. and Walsham, G. (1997). Social Structure and Managerial Agency in India. Organization Studies, 18 (3), 415-444.

Sahay, S. Robey, D. (1996). Organizational context, social interpretation, and the implementation and consequences of geographic information systems. Accounting, Management and Information Technology 6 (4): 255-282.

Sarker, S. and Sahay, S. "Understanding Virtual Team Development: An Interpretive Study," Journal of the AIS (JAIS), Vol. 4, Article 1, 2003, pp. 1-38.

Stein, E.W. and Vandenbosch, B. (1996). Organizational learning during advanced system development: opportunities and obstacles. Journal of Management Information Systems 13 (2): 115-136.

Walsham, G. (2002). Cross-cultural software production and use: a structurational analysis. MIS Quarterly 26 (4): 359-380.

Walsham, G. and Han, C.K. (1991) Structuration theory and information systems research. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 17: 77-85.

Walsham, G. and Ham, C.K. (1993). Information Systems Strategy Formation and Implementation: the Case of Central Government Agency. Accounting Management and Information Technology, 3: 191-209.

Walsham, G., and Sahay, S. (1999). GIS for District-level Administration in India: Problems and Opportunities, MIS Quarterly, 23 (1), 39-65.

Walsham, G., and Waema, T. (1994). Information Systems Strategy and Implementation: a Case Study of a Building Society, ACM Transactions on Information Systems 12 (2), 150-173.

Yates, J. and Orlikowski, W.J. (1992). Genres of Organizational Communication: a Structurational Approach to Studying Communication and Media. The Academy of Management Review.

Yates, J., Orlikowski, W.J. and Okamura, K. (1995). Constituting Genre Repertoires: Deliberate and Emergent Patterns of Electronic Media Use. The Academy of Management Journal Best Papers Proceedings, 353-357.

Links from this theory to other theories

Adaptive structuration theory, Organizational knowledge creation

External links Chapter prepared by Paul Gingrich for the course Sociology 319 - Contemporary Social Theory – University of Regina, Department of Sociology and Social Studies Paper written by Jeremy Rose, ECIS1998., from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. , from (integrated reference answers) , extracted from the book Media, Gender and Identity by David Gauntlett

Original Contributor(s)

Marlei Pozzebon and Alain Pinsonneault

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