Conceptual note - agency

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Bruner (1996) argues that underpinning the way in which people interact with and come to know the world is ‘the agentive mind’. This manifests itself through action in the world, which is dependent upon agency (the ability to act). Importantly, this action must mirror the agentive operation of the mind - i.e. it must be “be proactive, problem-oriented attentionally focused, selective, constructional, directed to ends” (Bruner 1996 p.93).

Through our actions within the world and our agentive mind’s interpretation of those actions we come to know the world. Through our evaluation of our own performance within the world we come to know ourselves; we form an image of who we are (our Self). Our sense of our Self in turn regulates our actions; it sets the bounds of what we believe we are capable of, including our ability to act and our ability to cope with the world (our self-esteem). Inevitably therefore our Self is a product of the arenas (social contexts) within which we operate. However, it is clear that within different contexts we perceive who we are differently. This leads to the notion of multiple identities. Bruner equates our Self with our identity. However, this confuses the issue of the relationship between Self and social context; there is only one Self yet multiple identities. It is more productive to view your identity as your contextualised Self, the sense that you have of who you are (and what you are capable of) within a particular context.


Bruner, J. (1996). The Culture of Education. Cambridge (MA), Harvard University Press

Other links

Agency links with the whole notion of learner voice, personalisation and democratic education.

Check out FutureLabs handbook on learner voice at