social structures are the medium of human activities

(or: Structuration Theory)

History and Orientation

Giddens' structurational theory is a formal social theory, and can be seen as an answer to the classic actor/structure dualism. The theory is a logic conceptual and heuristic model of human behavior/action (Jacobs, 1993).

Core Assumptions and Statements

Behavior and structure are intertwined; people go through a socialization process and become dependent of the existing social structures, but at the same time social structures are being altered by their activities. Put in different words, this means that social structures are the medium of human activities as well as the result of those activities. Social structures not only restrict behavior but also create possibilities for human behavior. The point is, it is not all about the restrictions people encounter in unrolling their behavior in space and time, but people also contribute to the creation of a certain time-space-structure.

Structuration theory is based on the premise that the classic actor/structure dualism has to be reconceptualized as a duality -- the duality of structure. The structural properties of social systems exist only in so far as forms of social conduct are reproduced chronically across time and space. The structuration of institutions can be understood in terms of how it comes about that social activities become 'stretched' across wide spans of time-space. Incorporating time-space in the heart of social theory means thinking again about some of the disciplinary divisions, which separate sociology from history, and from geography. In structuration theory 'structure' is regarded as rules and resources recursively implicated in social reproduction; institutionalized features of social systems have structural properties in the sense that relationships are stabilized across time and space. 'Structure' can be conceptualized abstractly as two aspects of rules -- normative elements and codes of signification. Resources are also of two kinds: authoritative resources, which derive from the co-ordination of the activity of human agents, and allocative resources, which stem from control of material products or of aspects of the material world (Giddens, 1984).

Giddens’ main claim for his theory is that it draws together the two principal strands of social thinking. In the structuralist tradition the emphasis is on structure (=constraint), whereas in the phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions the human agent is the primary focus. Structuration theory attempts to recast structure and agency as a mutually dependent duality (Rose, 1999). Some structuration theory concepts are time space distanciation, routinization, and system integration.

Conceptual Model



Structurational Models.
Source: Rose (1999)

Favorite Methods

To be added.

Scope and Application

The structural theory is not intended to use in empirical research. It can be used in approach to (micro and macro) social phenomena, mostly in organizations. Besides that, the adaptive structurational theory is being used to do research on (IC) technologies in organizations.


Orlikowski, W.J. (2000). Using technology and constituting structures: A practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization Science, 11(4), 404-428.


Key publications

  • Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Rose, J. (1999). Towards a structurational theory of IS, theory development and case study illustrations. In: Pries-Heje et al. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 7th European Conference on Information Systems. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School.  

See Organizational Communication