The VCLA is developing a research project on ‘Social Constraints and Varieties of Mobility in Late Antiquity’. This project will aim to think hard about the norms, constraints and opportunities for personal change with which people from a wide range of backgrounds were confronted. In doing so, it will draw in part on the theory of structuration.

The social history of late antiquity

Much work on the history of Late Antiquity in recent decades has sought, explicitly or implicitly, to place the analysis of problems against a ‘social background’. This has, for example, been a major development in the study of the political and religious history of the period. The methodological risk, however, is that the ‘background’ is taken a little too much for granted and is not necessarily kept as up-to-date as it should be. It is all too easy to rely for the ‘background’ on received wisdom, some of which might be quite dated. With this in mind, the present project takes the social history of Late Antiquity as its foreground, and then aims to look at other questions from that vantage-point.


Briefly put, structuration theory is an approach to the study of society that examines both structures and agency, giving primacy to neither but instead giving attention to the relation between the two. Debate over the respective significance of structure and agency has been a long-standing feature of both historical and sociological work. In both disciplines, structuration theory offers a productive way to think about this question, without the need for an unduly polarized discussion. Structuration theory is particularly associated with the sociologist Anthony Giddens, though it has been fruitfully addressed by others as well.

If you are interested in this project, please contact