1-800-How-Am-I-Driving? Agency in Social Science History

Publication Date: 
June 2011
Social Science History, vol. 35 #1, pp. 1-17

Introduction

As agents, we all act on behalf of others and of our own accord: these are socially and historically interrelated orientations to action in contemporary America. But as chains of accountability erode at work and in the economy, as layers of aides and representatives proliferate in social welfare, and as outsourcing comes to define prisonfare at home and mercenary warfare abroad, the challenges of agency relations come to the fore. These processes are counterposed to and entwined with more playful forms of action through self-representation, now in Facebook and its ilk increasingly mediated through technics, but rooted in far older forms of confessional speech and writing. How, then, do we begin to understand postmodern agency? This address, an invitation and a first step, locates the vicissitudes of everyday agency in America in comparative-historical context.