This Working Paper comprises a literature review that was carried out to inform the formulation of a research project on power, violence, citizenship and agency, which addresses how social actors react to complex, violence-prone contexts. It reviews recent literature on citizen agency, social agency, leadership, violence and conflict from various disciplines including security studies, conflict studies, social theory, psychology, anthropology, development studies and gender studies.
It focuses on the way that agency is conceptualised in each field. While all the disciplinary areas covered acknowledge that agency exists in complex violent settings, few studies refer to transformative agency for prevention or transformation of violent conflict, instead framing agency in terms of participating in violent activities, coping mechanisms for sustaining life in violent circumstances, or maintaining ‘ordinary life’ during conflict. The only disciplinary areas in which a more theoretical understanding of transformative agency is being developed are in gender studies and development studies, which also address issues of identity and power.