Two Definitions of “Agency”

“Agency” has two interesting, somewhat ironic uses with regard to this overall topic.

In many aspects of society, an agency is most often an organization of people who provide some kind of service for some group of individuals – such as an adoption agency, law enforcement agency, employment agency, etc.

There is a large spectrum of social services agencies that might provide services to people that have particular needs for basic things such as housing, medical care, education, legal services, disaster recovery and relief efforts, and many more . . . including an entire industry focused on providing services for people with disabilities.

There is a wide variety of services that disability agencies might provide for people with disabilities, and the people who work for the agencies are there to do good. Many agencies, large and small, provide services that include residential group homes, adult day programs and other settings in which the employees make decisions and supervise many of the activities and schedules of the people with disabilities they are serving.

In several possible ways, the agency and its employees are paid to provide the service. In this definition of “agency,” it’s an organization – and the organization controls the planning and decision-making regarding the people receiving the service.

A few years ago, I learned of a different definition of “agency.” In a course I was taking at Arizona State University on communications and culture, the topic of discussion was how some characters in television shows are more authentic, more fully realized as whole people. Archie Bunker, Tony Soprano and Cagney & Lacy are some examples. Their authenticity and control over what they did – their autonomy – and their outward presentation to others represented “agency” in a sociological sense. So, one use of the word agency involves controlling other people; in another use, agency involves a person controlling his or her own life.

This website explores an aspect of the second use above – agency in the sense of one in control of his or her own activities. Agency, in the sense of autonomy.


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