Desistance and the structure vs agency conundrum: fiction or reality?

In desistance research the work of the “usual suspect” desistance scholars (Maruna, Farrall, Laub and Sampson etc..) has lead to the following conundrum: what does come first between structure and agency? What is the one that starts the whole process? Does personal change lead to a re-definition of the structure or the other way round? (see Giddens in relation to structure and habitus).

The question has been posed in an interesting article by LeBel, T., Burnett, R., Maruna, S., & Bushway, S. (2007) and has a suggestive title: “The Chicken or the Egg of Subjective and Social Factors in Desistance”.

While the questions is interestingly stimulating, and yet there is more an agreement on the fact that there is need for research on this topic than on the exact order, the question that follows is: why is knowing the exact order of the two important?

Assuming that either the structure or the agency have a specific role in desistance, how does this translate in policy and further intervention?

Agency without structure will soon jeopardise the persons’ change while the other way round won’t be having much effects. What might be more important is rather knowing whether there is a structure ready to welcome an ex-service users’ agentic change.

Are there in place structures to help the process? That is: are we paving the road to desistance?

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