Anthony Giddens

(b. 1938)

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(1938– )

Internationally famous British sociologist, innovative publisher, public intellectual, and Director of the London School of Economics, Giddens has authored a remarkable succession of seminal contributions to social theory. In the 1970s he founded the tradition of structuration theory, providing an original, counter-intuitive, means of combining structure and agency by placing hermeneutics and phenomenology at the core of the conception of structure (see The Constitution of Society, 1984). In the same year, 1985, as Giddens became Cambridge University's first head of the new faculty of Social and Political Sciences, he founded Polity Press. Closely involved with commissioning and editing Giddens was instrumental in making many of the continental European and American sources for his own philosophical and theoretical syntheses accessible to a much wider audience. His extensive historical sociology, also developed during the late 1970s and 1980s, famously challenged core ingredients of historical materialism and argued for a distinctively pluralistic and non-teleological approach to causation.

Four major works on late modernity and its politics written in the 1990s, beginning with The Consequences of Modernity, dissected and analysed the major institutional forces and life experiences of the ‘runaway world’, highlighting the central roles played in contemporary life by institutional reflexivity, risk, trust, and powerful abstract systems that have little respect for local contexts. More recently, his role as a public intellectual has come to the fore with a series of popularly targeted publications, such as The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, that began life as an attempt to give logical rigour to a series of seminars he was involved in with Tony Blair, the Clintons, and members of the British and American cabinets during the late 1990s. Politics in late modernity, argues Giddens, needs still to be utopian in its aspirations but to temper this with a greater sense of the limits to the possible. This is because of the limits to the tractability of abstract systems, the inevitability of unintended consequences, and—the paradox of institutional reflexivity—the constant undermining of a stable environment by the very ideas, lessons and theories that are meant to give it some stability. Following his retirement from the LSE he joined the House of Lords as a Labour peer.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/reith_99/default.htm Giddens' Reith Lectures of 1999, including an interview and lectures on contemporary modernity.

Subjects: Sociology.

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