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The socio-cultural dynamics of development: part 3 development through agency theory

Maurice Yolles (Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 8 July 2019

Issue publication date: 8 July 2019




Agency is inherently an institution and involves dynamic socio-cultural processes that facilitate development. This paper is written in three parts. The purpose in Part 1 was to represent agency theory as an institutional theory, and consideration was made of the relationship between development, growth and globalisation. In Part 2, the purpose was to explore development with respect to the political context, explaining in terms of culture under what conditions political groups may come to power. Using political frames intended to define their nature and realities, they seek to attract agents in their political sphere to gain administrative power. In this Part 3, the purpose of this paper is to model, using cybernetic agency theory, the nature of development and reduction to instrumentality.


Development theory is a multidisciplinary field in which research and theories are clustered together and set within an adaptive institutional activity system framework. An adaptive activity system has a plural membership of agents represented by agency. In Parts 1 and 2 of this paper, agency was shown to have an institutional basis. Activity system development was also explained as a process of institutional evolution, and its potential was shown to provide power acquisition in a political landscape by competitive political frames which vie for support in a place of potentially susceptible agents. Here in Part 3, agency theory will be used to model the dynamic relationships between political frames and the agents that they wish to attract by projecting both cognitive and emotional structures, this enabling the anticipation of behaviour.


These relate to the three parts of the paper taken together. Agency is an evolutionary institutional system that can represent socio-political development. A model for political development has been created that identifies the conditions under which formal political groups are able to promote frames of policy to attract support from autonomous agents that constitute the membership of the activity system, and hence gain agency status. On the way to this, it connects Bauman’s theory of liquid modernity to Sorokin’s theory of socio-cultural dynamics and cultural stability. One result is the notion of liquid development, an unstable condition of development in adaptive activity systems. Agency theory can usefully explain detailed changes in agency, the relationships between agency agents, and interactions between agencies, this embracing institutional processes.

Research limitations/implications

The implication of this research is that it will allow empirical methods to be used that potentially enables political outcomes in complex socio-political environments to be anticipated, given additional appropriate measurement criteria.


The synergy of agency and institutional theories to explain the process of development is new, as is its application to the political development process in a political landscape. As part of this synergistic process, it has been shown how Bauman’s concept of liquidity relates to Sorokin’s ideas of socio-cultural change.



Yolles, M. (2019), "The socio-cultural dynamics of development: part 3 development through agency theory", Kybernetes, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 1871-1898.



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