Giddens, Anthony(1938-) British sociologist who, in a prolific career, has established himself, first, as a leading interpreter of classical sociological theory (notably Capitalism and Modern Social Theory, 1971), secondly, as a significant contributor to modern analysis of class and stratification (e.g. The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, 1973), thirdly, especially in the 1980s with his formulation of STRUCTURATION THEORY, as an important general sociological theorist in his own right, fourthly as a leading theorist of GLOBALIZATION and RISK SOCIETY, and finally as a leading ‘public intellectual’ and major influence on NEW LABOUR and the politics of the THIRD WAY
His firmest reputation is for structuration theory. Beginning with New Rules of Sociological Method (1976) and Central Problems of Sociological Theory (1979) and culminating in The Constitution of Society (1984), this work has been widely influential, not only in sociology. Structuration theory advances an account of the interrelation of STRUCTURE AND AGENCY (see also DUALITY OF STRUCTURE) in which primacy is granted to neither. In a continuing series of works, including A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (1981), The Nation State and Violence (1985) and The Consequences ofModernity (1990), this conception was then deployed in mounting a critique of evolutionary and developmental theories in sociology, and in advancing an alternative account of social change, in which emphasises ‘contingency’. In The Consequences ofModernity and Modernity and Self-Identity (1991) Giddens also takes issue with theories of POSTMODERNITY and POSTMODERNISM, arguing instead for a conception of RADICALIZED MODERNITY in which most of the changes presented as ‘postmodernity’ (e.g. post-empiricist epistemology, centrifugal tendencies in social transformation) are seen as already implicit in modernity. In these works and also in The Transformation ofIntimacy (1992), he explores the wider implications of ‘radicalized modernity’, including shifting conceptions of ‘self-identity’ (see INTIMACY, NARCISSISM, ONTOLOGICAL SECURITY AND INSECURITY, LIFE POLITICS), and new possibilities of social transformation and democratization, leading Giddens into an interesting ‘debate’with BECK (see Beck et al., 1994) about the implications of ‘RISK SOCIETY’ – see also REFLEXIVE MODERNIZATION.
In recent years Giddens’ writing has been oriented especially to influencing political and social change. The key works of this latest phase are Beyond Left and Right (1994), The Third Way – the Renewal of Social Democracy (1998) and the Third Way and Its Critics (2000) – see also THIRD WAY The themes of the earlier phases of his work are still apparent but the target audience is now the public sphere, rather than sociology narrowly. In 1999, Giddens delivered the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures, via multimedia, to a global audience, with the theme of a ‘runaway world’ – in some ways the medium was the message. The lectures were subsequently published as Runaway World -How Globalisation is Reshaping Our Lives (1999). There are critics of this new phase (see King, 1999) but Giddens’ thesis is that we live in a world with a future that is ‘without guarantees’ but we can make a difference. His aim is to speak to this agency and makes no apology for the change of voice that this involves, although he does acknowledge that there may be a ‘trade-off’ between academic rigour and public communication.
Overall accounts and discussion of Giddens can be found in Bryant and Jary (1990 and 2000) and Craib (1992). See also LIFE-WORLD, STRATIFICATION MODEL OF SOCIAL ACTION AND CONSCIOUSNESS, POWER, EVOLUTIONARY SOCIOLOGY, TIME-SPACE DISTANCIATION, INTERSOCIETAL SYSTEMS, NATION STATE.