In Toward a Psychology of Human Agency, Bandura (2006) agrees with Freud that religion played a significant role in the advancement of civilization, and that the scientific revolution that began with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution shifted our focus toward natural and scientific approaches to understanding and improving human life. However, evolution emphasizes random effects on genetically determined structures and traits, and does not allow for the choices made by individuals, though sociobiologists argue that genetics can exert influences on those choices. Rather than relying on psychoanalysis in order to understand the impulses of the id that drive us to survive, as Freud proposed (1927/1961, 1930/1961), Bandura believes that people are agents of change in their own lives, and that they can choose the direction that change takes.
Being an agent involves intentionally influencing one’s functioning and life circumstances, and there are four core properties of human agency. Intentionality refers to our ability to form action plans and the strategies necessary for accomplishing them. Forethought is the temporal extension of agency, in which we set goals for ourselves and anticipate likely outcomes of our actions to both guide and motivate our behavior. Once having chosen a course of action, of course, we do not simply sit back and wait for the right things to happen. Agency also involves both self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness, processes in which we regulate our behavior, monitor our courses of action, and examine whether we are capable of being successful in our various endeavors (Bandura, 2006). As much as human agency involves our own thoughts, goals, motivation, and expectations, however, we do not exist autonomously. All human behavior occurs within social structures, and there is a reciprocal interplay between personal, behavioral, and environmental determinants (reciprocal determinism). This means that human agency, the exercise of self-influence, is part of the causal structure of our lives. As Bandura points out, this is not “free will,” which would be a throwback to medieval theology, but rather a matter of acting as an agent, the role of an individual in making causal contributions to the course of events in their life (Bandura, 2006).
…Social cognitive theory rejects a duality of human agency and a disembodied social structure. Social systems are the product of human activity, and social systems, in turn, help to organize, guide, and regulate human affairs. However, in the dynamic interplay within the societal rule structures, there is considerable personal variation in the interpretation of, adoption of, enforcement of, circumvention of, and opposition to societal prescriptions and sanctions…freedom is conceived not just passively as the absence of constraints, but also proactively as the exercise of self-influence… (pg. 165; Bandura, 2006)