Structure, Agency, and Social Change in a “Lost Generation”


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This in-class activity is designed for students to learn and creatively apply the concepts of structure and agency. Structure and agency are often difficult to disentangle, or, alternatively, they are treated as a fixed dichotomy. As such, it can be challenging to present these concepts to undergraduate students in an accessible way. This exercise addresses both concepts in turn and then together, so that they are understood as independent and interactive. The mechanism for exploring these concepts is a reversable poem by Jonathan Reed entitled “Lost Generation.” The meaning of the poem changes as it is read backwards, providing an opportunity to reanalyze the author’s perspective. The activity also enables students to reflect on how structure and agency relate to social change by investigating the role of these concepts in real social movements. Students are given the opportunity to consider how the study of sociology might affect or has affected their worldview, and how they have agency to affect social issues about which they care.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Renae Wilkinson
Robert A. Thomson, Jr. 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Introduction to Sociology/Social Problems 
Class Level:
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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The poem utilized for this activity is available online on several websites, one of which is cited in the “reference” section below. The instructions we provide for leading a class discussion of the poem will be clearer if instructors read the poem first. Prior to class discussion of the poem,...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Integrate concepts of structure and agency into discussion of social phenomenon.
Assessment 1:
Students will journal responses about how agency and structure affect their ability or inability to address one social issue introduced in the class and will discuss their reflections in the next class meeting.
Goal 2:
Identify institutionalized relationships, the needs they serve, and the constraints they impose.
Assessment 2:
Students will identify institutional relationships indicated in the poem, and will discuss how these relationships shape available choices and opportunities, and how these relationships are shaped by larger social forces.
Goal 3:
Analyze recent examples of social movements using two perspectives of social movement theory.
Assessment 3:
3. Students will apply two perspectives of social movement theory to recent examples in class discussion.

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