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Stand up/Sit down stucture and agency activity
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free will
individual choice
collective agency
social change
constrain and enable
stand up
sit down

How to Cite

Peretz, Tal, and Michael Messner. 2013. “Stand up/Sit down Stucture and Agency Activity”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, October. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


This classroom activity quickly illustrates the complex relationship between structure, personal choice, and collective agency by having students stand up or sit down depending on whether they chose to take the class, and would've made the same choice under other circumstances. It takes between 10-30 minutes, works well with 25-300 students, and can...

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Subject Area(s):
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity
Class Level(s):
Any Level
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

We have used this activity in large (150 students) introductory classes and in smaller discussion sections (25 students), in courses on sex and gender and on ethnicity and racial conflict, which offer general education and "diversity" credit. It provides a working understanding of a central sociological concept and should be adaptable and useful for a...

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Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. Provide students a working understanding of social structure and collective agency; connect these complex and abstract sociological concepts to students’ lives and experiences, encouraging them to view their own lives in historical and social context.
  2. Illustrate the subtle but powerful ways that structure both constrains and enables individual choice and help students think more critically about individualist views of free will.
  3. Illustrate how structure and agency are intertwined: structure shapes group choice and action, which in turn shapes social structure; suggest collaborative group effort as a primary driver of historical change.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. As this is a quick and basic in-class activity, student learning is assessed first through visible student understanding and vocal response during in-class activity.
  2. During future classes, in discussions of other course concepts or social issues, students can be asked to apply the concepts of structure and agency, and describe how each affects the issue, the discussion, or the people involved.
  3. On exams and in essays, students may be asked to describe how structure is implicated in a particular social issue, how social structures both constrain and enable the actors involved, and how collective action could be used to reshape those structure.

When using resources from TRAILS, please include a clear and legible citation.

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