The purpose of this essay is to offer a brief sketch of just one of the ways in which Anthony Giddens’ ‘structuration theory’ might provide a framework for a fruitful and significant social-scientific approach to the New Testament. It is not an approach that has nothing in common with previous studies, both sociological and historical, but, I suggest, it draws their insights into a more adequate and critical framework. 2
Giddens is one of the most prominent contemporary figures in the field of social theory. Structuration theory, as critical social theory, is, in Giddens’ view, relevant to ‘the whole range of the social sciences’ (Giddens 1982:5). It is not, however, a theory which offers detailed models or explanations which could be tested against the New Testament evidence. It seeks to offer conceptual resources, or an ‘ontological framework’ (Giddens 1991:201), with which to approach the study of social life. It offers resources for a theoretical framework, yet encourages the researcher also to remain open to the contextually and historically specific nature of the arena of investigation.
The formulation of structuration theory is profoundly influenced by perhaps the most ‘fundamental problem [which] stalks through the history of sociological theory’ (Archer 1990:73): the dualism between action and structure, or between subject and object. Opposing schools of sociology have emphasized one at the expense of the other (see Giddens 1982:28-30). Central to Giddens’ attempt to overcome this problem is the assertion that this dualism ‘must cede place to recognition of a duality which is implicated in all social reproduction, the duality of structure. By the “duality of structure” I refer to the essentially recursive character of social life: the structural properties of social systems are both medium and outcome of the practices that constitute those systems’ (Giddens 1982:36-37).