The Paradox of Agency

A multi-description exploration of the Paradox of Agency in Complexity.

MJ 611/ 2021 



Nora Bateson writes, ‘The notion of the individual entity having agency is confused by a paradox. The confusion lies with the idea of individuation. The entity (organism, person, or organization) is bound to its unique perspective or epistemology, and in that sense is identifiable as a separate source of responsibility. But, there is no aspect of that entity that is uninfluenced, uninformed, or unbound to the larger contextual interactions. On closer examination we begin to see that agency is diffused into the larger contextual processes that are shared by the entire community. Agency is a paradoxical product of mutual learning within and between people, nature, and culture.’

In that Paradox of Agency, how do we define our private and professional roles? How do we define our identity or identities? How do we find out what to do and what are meaningful actions? Does it even make sense to give one’s life a specific purpose, to seek meaning in one’s life – and as a corollary, can we take meaningful action towards a purpose? How can we aspire to do good in the world? Can we? Is there still an instance of agency that leads to actions that I can truly attribute to me as an individual, as opposed to it being a consequence of my entanglement with multiple contexts and histories? What does that mean for the idea of will?

These question and more I want to explore with a variety of people in different tones and forms on this website – essays, book chapters, poems,  music, pieces of art, movement, film, etc. This is a creative project, an exploration without a defined purpose – I’m not expecting clear answers to these questions. Purpose might emerge along the way through relationships and interactions between context and people that will be formed throughout the project. is a pro bono project by Marcus Jenal. Marcus accompanies individuals, teams and organisations and explores together with them the space of the possible to open up new opportunities for development. His aim is not to fix problems, but to discover ways of being and acting when facing a complex and messy reality. He used to call himself a consultant but has been struggling to find a specific job title that fits the way he works.

A project of Marcus Jenal.
All contributions are generously offered by their creators without remuneration.
Unless otherwise stated, all copyrights are with the contributors.