Human Agency and Its Discursive Practices

Qiuming Lin


This paper is aimed to provide a review about the studies on how people practice their agency in various types of discourse and to suggest the possible directions for future research. The paper begins with the introduction to different conceptualizations of human agency in philosophy and sociology. Next, it reviews how human agency has been explored in written discourses like textbooks, news stories and novels, as well as in spoken discourses including conversations and oral narratives. Then, it highlights the relationship between agency and systemic functional linguistics, as the latter has been effectively applied to analyzing human agency in discourse. The review shows that studies on discursive practice of agency have demonstrated the following features. First, human agency has been studied in various types of discourse with methodological biases. Second, the majority of the studies take a relatively static view towards agency within a particular discourse. Third, most of the studies are qualitative analysis to selected individual sentences or utterances. At the end of the paper, suggestions are given for further research based on the research gaps identified.

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