This article explores the performance of agency within the context of unequal power resources and structural constraint. Based on 23 video‐recorded placement meetings in three homeless shelters, we find that participants' agency is the outcome of both collaboration and resistance. To avoid interaction that fails to empower, social actors engage in “repair work” and face‐saving practices. When clients display “wrong face”—that is, bring problems to the table that are not considered “reasonable”—then the service providers engage in “repair work.” Participants turn conflict into collaborative agency because interactions that fail to deliver mutually empowering forms of agency have costs for both: clients' problems are not solved, and service providers fail to reach organizational goals.
Bibliographical notePublished online: 1 December 2020.
- Symbolic interactionism
- Structural constraints