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Agency Theory

August 2005

From The Annual Review of Sociology:

In an agency relationship, one party acts on behalf of another. It is curious that a concept that could not be more profoundly sociological does not have a niche in the sociological literature. This essay begins with the economics paradigm of agency theory, which casts a very long shadow over the social sciences, and then traces how these ideas diffuse to and are transformed (if at all) in the scholarship produced in business schools, political science, law, and sociology. I cut a swathe through the social fabric where agency relationships are especially prevalent and examine some of the institutions, roles, forms of social organization, deviance, and strategies of social control that deliver agency and respond to its vulnerabilities, and I consider their impact. Finally, I suggest how sociology might make better use of and contribute to agency theory.