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Dance and structuration theory

Structuration Theory

Giddens’ Structuration Theory is the third conceptual tool I will use for my understanding of dance as in/tangible heritage.

This theory helps to explain change in society and, therefore, a form of heritage that is in constant flow, as highlighted in 2.5. In the authenticity section, it was discussed how dance can be ephemeral and permanent at the same time drawing on Schechner’s (2013) concept of restored behavior.

Also, the issue of traditions vs. individual creativity was raised. Giddens’ Structuration Theory goes deeper in connecting society, with its rules and resources, with change and individuals.

This question is pertinent to dance and, as Giurchescu (2001, p. 114) argues:

It may be translated as: individualisation versus socialisation, informal versus formal, innovation versus tradition, variability versus fixation. The dancer’s need to express his or her own artistic personality comes into conflict with the necessity to integrate into the social group, to interact with other performers, and to reproduce the traditionally set dance patterns.

Giurchescu (2001)

Resolving the Subjectivity/Objectivity Dichotomy

Giddens (1984) developed Structuration Theory, to resolve the subjectivity/objectivity dichotomy in social theory, a relationship of dualism, opposition.

Giddens argued that functionalism and structuralism had an objectivist view of society, in which functions and social systems dictated how people would behave.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, hermeneutics and interpretive sociology focused on meanings and interpretations, which were subjective and linked to the individual.

So, the individuals had either no agency (functionalist and structuralist approaches) or social reality almost entirely depended on interpretations of individuals (hermeneutics and interpretive sociology approaches).

Giddens is not the only social scientist to have grappled with this problem, as others engaged with it too (Walsh, 1998; Parker, 2000), but few at the level of scope and scale as Giddens.

Indoan couple dancing.

Duality of Structure and Agency

Giddens’s core idea was to change this dualism into a duality of structure and agency, meaning that they not only could coexist, but depended on each other, with the ‘bridge’ being the engagement with rules and resources that structures produce.

He explains: ‘by the duality of structure I mean that the structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems’ (1984, p. 69).

He argues that ‘human societies, or social systems, would plainly not exist without any agency.

But it is not the case that actors create social systems: they reproduce or transform them, remaking what is already made in the continuity of praxis’ (1984, p. 171).

He identified three elements: the structures, the social systems and the individuals. These three elements overlap because structures are internal to individuals.

At the same time, social systems include the activities of many individuals, thus the ‘structured properties of social systems [can stretch] away, in time and space’ (1984, p. 25), from the control of individuals.

Giddens states (1984, p. 25) that ‘structure is not to be equated with constraint but is always both constraining and enabling’.

Dialectic Relationship Between Individuals and Structures

There is a dialectic relationship between individuals and structures, as individuals challenge and/or reproduce structures through their own actions.

According to Giddens, the way in which individuals act on structures can be unconscious or through discursive or practical consciousness, the latter of which ‘consists of all the things which actors know tacitly about how to ‘go on’ in the contexts of social life without being able to give them direct discursive expression’ (1984, p. XXII).

This means that the individuals are conscious of what they are doing but not in a discursive way; they do not express it in words but rather in actions.

Individuals and Structures

Individuals interact with structures through the rules and the resources that structures comprise.

For this reason, structures can be enabling or constraining for individuals. Resources give individuals power, while rules limit what individuals can do (although both are enabling and constraining, depending on the individual).

Rules and resources are simultaneously tangible and intangible, as they can include material instruments, as well as knowledge and skills.

Resources, defined by Giddens as ‘forms of transformative capacity’ (1984, p. 33), exist in two different forms: allocative and authoritative.

Allocative resources generate command ‘over objects, goods or material phenomena’ (ibid) (in the case of dance these could be props, performance spaces, music and sound), while authoritative resources generate command over persons (for dance, these include the movements that performers could do, the feelings they express, or the power of a choreographer to control the dancers).

Habitual, Constitutive, Regulative and Formula Rules

Rules are also of different types. Giddens (1984, p. 19) identifies four:

  1. habitual or routine, a weak rule, as it simply refers to things that an individual does routinely but it does not imply prescription]
  2. constitutive, this describes the nature of what something is (for example, the rules of a game such as chess constitute the nature of the game itself)
  3. regulative, these are rules that must be followed, such as, for example, the time workers are supposed to arrive at their workplace
  4. formulas, described as ‘a generalizable procedure’ (ibid. pp. 19-20), linguistic rules are an example. Rules, for Giddens, are (ibid. p, 22) ‘procedures of action, aspects of praxis’, as they tell agents what to do, thereby harnessing agency and guiding action.

In the field of dance/heritage, rules (which would be mostly of the constitutive type) refer to traditions and movement vocabularies, which dance practitioners follow.

However, these rules can also be resources (both authoritative and allocative), which give practitioners the means to express themselves, if they have the right skills, thus maintaining or transforming traditions.

Traditions, skills and movement vocabulary are intangible (although they are embodied by dancers).

Artefacts and Structural Properties

Artefacts though, such as props or costumes used during the dance performance, are tangible resources or ‘structural properties of social systems’ which are ‘both medium and outcome of the practices they recursively organize’ (Giddens, 1984, p. 25). Burkitt (1999, p. 36) further articulates the transformative capacity of artefacts:

Artefact refers to a created object in which human acting is embodied because it has been fashioned for some use within human practices . . . certain forms of bodily carriage and movement appear, or ways of handling objects and manipulating them, which are culture specific. Thus, our way of ‘being in the world’, of acting, knowing and thinking, is largely dependant on artefacts.

Burkitt (1999)

This above point echoes Merleau-Ponty ([1945] 1992, p. 166), as ‘habit expresses our power of dilating our being-in-the-world, or changing our existence by appropriating fresh instruments’.

Hence, artefacts can become extensions of a person’s body when they learn how to use them through habit. Therefore, Lo Iacono and Brown (2016, p. 99) conclude:

The duality of structuration is represented through the social action/praxis of dancers, choreographers and audiences drawing on in/tangible rules and resources to produce, perform and observe dances through which traditions are continued but also challenged and modified.

Lo Iacono and Brown (2016)

Also, artefacts, I propose, are a form of capital (following Bourdieu’s idea of objective capital, as mentioned in 3.5), the things we have or know how to use.

Hence, the interaction of human beings with objects is multifaceted. The next section will summarise all these theories and connect them with dance analysis principles, to outline a model of dance as living heritage.

This model is by no means prescriptive and rigid, but flexible and adaptable, as it will provide my research with conceptual guidelines that will adapt to any themes that may emerge from the data.

Next Page >> The concept of Living Heritage.

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.