chapter  4
Agency, narratives and social contexts
Pages 20

A key aim of this book is to examine the nature of agency in the desistance process in more detail. Despite frequent references to the concept of agency within the desistance literature, usage of the term remains vague (Bottoms et al., 2004). In order to consider the role of agency in the desistance process it is important to examine the meaning of agency in a wider sociological sense, before deconstructing the key aspects of agency in relation to the desistance process as identified in the existing literature. While the concepts of social structure and agency are ubiquitous in much of the sociological literature (Hays, 1994), their definitions are frequently varied and conflicting (Sewell, 1992). For example, structure can be defined in terms of constraint, in relation to available opportunities for action (Healy, 1998); in terms of the ‘rules and resources’ that enable actors to operate (Giddens, 1986); or, quite simply, as the broader context within which individuals act (Bates, 2006). While agency has become more prominent in some accounts of desistance (Giordano et al., 2002; Maruna, 2001), there has been a lack of attention towards this aspect of the process and this may be, in part, because of the preponderance to try and identify social factors that can facilitate desistance transitions. The lack of attention may also be the result of inadequate conceptualisations of the term, and although there has been greater attention paid towards the concept, usage of the term in a desistance context remains somewhat vague (Bottoms et al., 2004; Healy, 2010).