The Place of Agency and Related Capacities in Future Practices

Sense-Brill Publishers
Publication Type:
Challenging Future Practice Possibilities, 2019, pp. 129 - 142 (13)
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In this book on practice futures a number of the major themes deal with larger dimensions of system and cultural changes. The future of the professions and professionalism is a topic examined in Chapters 6 and 7. In this chapter we focus on the people, especially professionals as human agents, in this contested space and explore the place agency in shaping future practices. Agency is the capacity to act and not feel helpless. It leads to purposeful and responsible action that is distinguished from following rules and procedures without reflection. Furthermore, agency enhances independence and responsibility in professional decision making with clients, and when focused on decreasing social inequalities, contributes to the betterment of society. The way we understand agency, as a unique human characteristic, has always been contested, to a degree, and has come again into focus with the advances of artificial intelligence. Although sociocultural and material contexts have always been acknowledged as influencing agency, the role of non-human agency is finding currency. Knappett and Malafouris (2008), with their edited book on material agency, propose a rethinking of agency away from an overly human-centred approach. With this chapter, we explore three main concepts: liquid times, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the place of human and non-human agency in future practices. We start by exploring different theoretical perspectives on framing agency. We focus on four heuristics – essentialist, pragmatic, identity, and career wide – and carve out agency within a temporal frame. We then discuss the interdependent relationship of agency with identity, resilience and capabilities. Next we introduce the concept of the deliberate professional, a term coined by Trede and McEwen (2016) and propose this idea as a useful framework for understanding the place of agency in future practice. The deliberate professional is thoughtful yet assertive and action-oriented, considers possibilities and reflects on other ways of acting to improve conditions and practices for self, others and the common good. From this discussion we conclude that human agency – regarded in a complex, interdependent relationship with sociocultural structures and other actors in the practice arena – plays a crucial role in enabling professionals to practise effectively for the good of people and society, in future practice.
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