Theory and Society

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 651–688 | Cite as

Beyond the antinomies of structure: Levi-Strauss, Giddens, Bourdieu, and Sewell



In this article, I attempt to address some enduring problems in formulation and practical use of the notion of structure in contemporary social science. I begin by revisiting the question of the fidelity of Anthony Giddens’ appropriation of the idea of structure with respect to Levi-Strauss. This requires a reconsideration of Levi-Strauss’ original conceptualization of “social structure” which I argue is a sort of “methodological structuralism” that stands sharply opposed to Giddens’ ontological reconceptualization of the notion. I go on to show that Bourdieu’s contemporaneous critique of Levi-Strauss is best understood as an attempt to recover rather than reject the central implication of Levi-Strauss’ methodological structuralism, which puts Bourdieu and Giddens on clearly distinct camps in terms of their approach toward the idea of structure. To demonstrate the—insurmountable—conceptual difficulties inherent in the ontological approach, I proceed by critically examining what I consider to be the most influential attempt to resolve the ambiguities in Giddens structuration theory: Sewell’s argument for the “duality of structure.” I show that by retaining Giddens’ ontological focus, Sewell ends up with a notion of structure that is at its very core “anti-structuralist” or only structuralist in a weak sense. I close by considering the implications of the analysis for the possibility of developing the rather neglected “methodological structuralist” legacy in contemporary social analysis.


Structure Structuralism Giddens Bourdieu Levi-Strauss Social structure Ontology Methodology 



I would like to thank Ron Breiger, John Levi Martin, Michael Strand, and in particular the Theory and Society Ediros and reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions. This article benefited in more ways than I can count or remember from their feedback. All remaining errors and omissions are my responsibility.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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