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Hitlin, Steven & Elder, Glen H., Jr. (2007). Time, Self, and the Curiously Abstract Concept of Agency. Sociological Theory, 25(2), 170-191. PMCID: c


The term "agency" is quite slippery and is used differently depending on the epistemological roots and goals of scholars who employ it. Distressingly, the sociological literature on the concept rarely addresses relevant social psychological research. We take a social behaviorist approach to agency by suggesting that individual temporal orientations are underutilized in conceptualizing this core sociological concept. Different temporal foci—the actor's engaged response to situational circumstances—implicate different forms of agency. This article offers a theoretical model involving four analytical types of agency ("existential," "identity," "pragmatic," and "life course") that are often conflated across treatments of the topic. Each mode of agency overlaps with established social psychological literatures, most notably about the self, enabling scholars to anchor overly abstract treatments of agency within established research literatures.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Sociological Theory


Hitlin, Steven
Elder, Glen H., Jr.