KDE Traffic #56 is Out

KDE Traffic #56 has been released. This week we have some news about LinuxTag, a fun and interesting little contest that I hope a certain developer has a sense of humor about, some news about KOffice (thanks Jürgen!) and more. You can find it at the usual place.


I just love the smell of fresh news

By Mario at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am

Has anybody out there used this tool?

I admit that I've never used this tool (and the demo-link is broken), but I'm having a hard time understanding why it should be a part of k-word.

First, why would I want somebody else's algorithm to summarize my text for me? I think I should do it myself. How reliable is this algorithm that it knows how I like to summarize my own text?

Second, you point out that its available as a plugin for abi-word. I can see having this tool available as a plugin might make sense, but I can't imagine why a (fluff?) feature like this belongs in K-word main.

By Jeff at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am

It's soooo cool.
Once I had an 8-page "research" assignment I had to cut down to 1-page within 10 minutes. So I used Word's "Autosummarize" :)

Of course it's not reliable. Computers aren't in general. I agree that it's a bit of bluff but it sure fools executive people :) It simply amazes me how a computer can summarize, or translate for that matter.

By ccdd at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am

‘Human beings can do and make themselves into what they are’. Discuss with reference to debates regarding structure and agency.

In the hands of Durkheim, Weber, and their contemporaries, sociology finally became, by the first decade of the twentieth century, established as a legitimate science with a place in the system of university teaching and research. although there were still few professors of sociology – and sociology was barely taught in schools – a sociological perspective had been established in the study of history, law,, politics, education, religion, and many other areas of specialisation.

There were, course, great differences in the theoretical positions that were put forward by those who called themselves ‘sociologists’. Durkheim and his followers stressed the importance of structure in social life, seeing societies as systems of structured relationships. The German sociologists, such as Weber, tended to emphasise action as the central concept, showing that all social structures were, ultimately, to be explained as the outcome of human actions.

These positions must not be seen as stark alternatives to one another. In the early days of academic sociology it was easy for Durkheim and Weber each to believe that his particular theory was uniquely appropriate for the study of social life. Indeed, some writers today still suggest that there is a great gulf between structure and action perspectives and that only one of them can be correct. As soon as one tries to do any sociological work, however, it becomes clear that the two approaches are complementary.

Durkheim and Weber were emphasising different aspects of a highly complex reality. Some social life involves both structure and action. Some sociologists have tried to combine both aspects in the same theory, but these attempts have not been particularly successful. There may one day be a single, all encompassing theory, but it is probably a long way from completion. The point is that sociologists need to develop a theoretical understanding of both the structural aspects of social life and their shaping by social actions. Distinct theoretical traditions may continue to exist., but they must cooperate in studies of particular phenomena.

Of all the concepts which sociology has developed to understand and investigate society, social structure is the most important and absolutely central to the discipline. The reason is simple. In order to conceive of society at all as a phenomenon which does exist objectively as a reality it is necessary to see that there is some definite form of organisation to the way in which the persons who live in it relate to one another that shapes the nature of these relationships in particular ways. Society is these various patterns of social relationships that emerge and develop between its members, and social structure is the term that sociology uses to capture and describe the organisation of these patterns and the shapes which they take.

It is not possible for sociology to think of society as simply an aggregate or collection of individuals per se because society consists of the ways in which they are collected together into a community of people. But it is at this point that the nature of what comprises social structure comes to constitute a problem for sociology and the issue of structure versus agency emerges as a central topic for the investigation of social life. Is the community which is society a collection of individuals who, as individuals, actively forge their relationships with one another and create society in the process of doing so? Or do the social relationships which make up society achieve an autonomous identity that establishes them as external conditions which determine the activities of the members of society as they enter into them? In both cases, society is seen to consist of relationships between its members which are structure, or organised, in particular ways and so has an objective existence. However, the first argument treats society and its structures as composed out of the actions of its individual members who are agents of their own actions and produce their relationships with one another in terms of this agency; whilst the second argument treats society and its structures as a system of relationships that determines the activities of the members of society through the ways in which it works as a system that conditions how people are able to behave within it. This is our dichotomy.

Both positions have been taken up in sociological theory, usually in opposition to one another, and the dispute between the two arguments continues to be an issue of contemporary debate. We may loosely refer to the two positions as individualistic, voluntaristic or action sociology as opposed to holistic, deterministic or structuralist sociology. However, what I want to suggest is that the assertion of one position rather than the other leads to irresolvable problems in both cases when one is attempting to deal with the actual nature of social relationships. Moreover, the effort to reconcile the two positions by arguing that social relationships. Moreover, the effort to reconcile the two positions by arguing that social relationships are relationships without necessarily resolving it by showing how social action both produces and is a product of human agency and also condition social activity within society often only restates the problem that social relationships are relationships between active individuals and an objectively existent society, without necessarily resolving it by showing how social action both produces and is a product of society at one and the same time. Let us outline first, then, the general features of the two positions as they argue about the nature of society, before moving into a more detailed investigation of the ideas of major sociological theorists who take up one or the other of these two positions of attempt to reconcile them as they seek to investigate and explain the nature of society and the basis of its organisation.

The foundation of the structuralist position lies in the argument that human beings are essentially social creatures who by their very nature are made by their social habitat which is society. On this basis it makes no sense to talk of human beings as individuals as though they necessarily live together with one another. Indeed the very content and character of the interests purposes and values which they espouse as persons, the motives which precipitate their actions, and the kinds of personality traits they develop can be seen to derive from the social world which they inhibit. Even individuality itself is argued to be a product of a certain kind of personal identity.

Uniting structural and social action approaches

Sociology can be divided into two types of approach. Structural approaches, such as functionalism and some versions of Marxism, emphasise the way that the structure of society directs human behaviour. Social action or interpretive approaches such as those advocated by Weber, symbolic interactionists and ethnomethodologists argue that humans create society through their own actions. This distinction is not neat and clear-cut; most perspectives in sociology show some concern with both social structure, and social action, but most perspectives emphasise one aspect of social life at the expense of another.

However, many sociologists have argued that it would be desirable to produce a sociological theory that combined an understanding of social structure and social action. C. Wright Mills, for example, claimed that ‘The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the large historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and external career of a variety of individuals’. It has often seemed as through sociologists could only understand one of these elements at a time. They might try to understand the ‘larger historical scene’ using a structural perspective; or alternatively they might try to understand the life of individuals using a social action approach. Generally they do not attempt to understand both simultaneously.

Anthony Giddens – the theory of structuration
- the duality of structure

over recent years the British sociologist Anthony Giddens has attempted to overcome the division between structure and action. Although the details of his argument are complex, his basic point is simple. Giddens claims that structure and action are two sides of the same coin. Neither structure nor action can exist independently; both are intimately related. Social actions create structures, and it is through social actions that structures are produced and reproduced, so that they survive over time. Indeed he uses a single word, ‘structuration’, to describe the way that structures relate to social actions, so that certain sets of social relationships survive over time and space. Giddens talks about the ‘duality of structure’ to suggest both that structures make social action possible, and at the same time that social action creates those very structures. He says that ‘structure has no existence independent of the knowledge that agents have about what they do in their day-to-day activity’. In other words, it is you, I, and every other individual that creates structures.

The clearest way that Giddens explains this is using the examples of language and speech. The English language is to Giddens a structure; it is a set of rules about how to communicate, which seems independent of any individual. The grammar and vocabulary of English cannot simply be changed at will by members of society. Yet if that language is to be reproduced, if it is to survive, it must be spoken or written by individuals in ways which follow its existing rules. Thus, Giddens says, ‘when I utter a grammatical English sentence I contribute to the reproduction of the English language as a whole’. The structure of the language ultimately depends upon the people who use it. For the most part, competent English speakers will follow the rules of English and reproduction will take place. However, this is not inevitable. Languages change, new words are invented and accepted by being used, some old words are forgotten and fall into disuse. Human agents, by their actions, can therefore transform as well as reproduce structures.

Rules and resources

In social life in general Giddens identifies two aspects of structure: ‘rules’ and ‘resources’. Rules are procedures which individuals may follow in their social life. Sometimes interpretations of these rules are written down, for example in the form of laws of bureaucratic rules. Such written expressions are not the rules themselves. Thus a rule might state how to go shopping by paying a shops assistant, while the written interpretation of a rule of this sort might be the law of theft. Such structural rules can either be reproduced by members of society or they can be changed through the development of new patterns of interaction.

The second aspect of structure, resources, also come into being through human actions and can be changed or maintained by them. Resources take two forms, allocative and authoritative. ‘Allocative resources’ include raw materials, land, technology, and instruments of production and goods. For Giddens such resources are never just there, given by nature; they only become resources through human actions. Thus land is not a resource until someone farms it or puts it to some other use. ‘Authoritative resources’ are non-material resources which result from some individuals being able to dominate others. In other words they involve the ability to get others to carry out a persons’ wishes, and in this way humans become a resource which other individuals may be able to use. As in other parts of his theory, Giddens insists that authoritative resources only exist in so far as they are produced by human interaction. Authority is not something a person has unless he or she is actually using it.

Social systems

Having discussed what he means by structure, Giddens goes on to explain what he sees as the nature of social systems and institutions. A social system, he argues, is simply a pattern of social relations, which exists over a period of time and space. Thus, for example, nineteenth-century Britain is a social system because it was as geographically defined space, over a particular period of time where there were certain reproduced sets of social relationships and social practices. Of course Giddens would not believe that Britain was the same system in 1899 as it was in 1801; social relationships and practices would have changed continuously as patterns of interaction changed. Similarly, institutions such as the state or bureaucracies are seen by Giddens as patterns of behaviour which display some continuity over time, but which may also change as time passes.

Agency and reproduction

Gidden’s views of structures, systems and institutions are closely tied in with his idea of human action (or agency as he usually refers to it) since they are all part of the ‘duality of structure.’ According to Giddens, human agents are constantly intervening in the world by their actions, and in doing so they have the capacity to transform it. He would not, though, accept the view that individuals just create society, any more than he would accept that society determines individual behaviour. Structure affects human behaviour because of the knowledge that agents have about their own society. There is a large stock of ‘mutual knowledge’ of ‘how to go on’, or how to get things done. Agents know from what they have learnt how to go about their everyday lives and accomplish objectives. For example,, ‘competent’ members of society know how to go to a bar and order a round of drinks, just as other competent members know how to serve the customer ordering the drinks. Routine, mundane behaviour like this is constantly carried out and much of it requires little thought. This is so because the agents involved are drawing upon their knowledge of the rules of society, which exist in the structure of society. They are also making use of resources which are also part of the structure of society. They make use of material commodities, like money, drinks and glasses, and of authoritative resources, such as the right of the bar staff to demand payment; a right which is recognised by the customers.

Giddens seems to think that humans have a basic desire for what he calls ‘ontological security’ or ‘confidence and trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be’. He suggests tentatively that his may be connected to the human ‘basic security system’, essentially a natural concern with the physical survival of the body. Thus is would be unsettling if people did not know whether they were expected to have to give money to, or take money from, bar staff, and even more unsettling if they were to worry that the bar staff were not what they seemed, and were a groups of mass murderers intent upon poisoning their customers.

Agency and transformation

According to Giddens the existence of mutual knowledge and a need for ontological security tend to produce regulations in social life. Patterns of behaviour are repeated, and in this way the structure of society, the social system and the institutions are all reproduced. However, this whole process also involves the ever present possibility that society can be changed. Agents do not have to behave as others do, nor do they necessarily act in accordance with their habits forever. Giddens describes ‘the reflexive monitoring of actions’ in which humans are constantly able to think about what they are doing and to consider whether their objectives are being achieved. If they are not being achieved, then agents may start to behave in new ways, patterns of interaction may change, and with them the social structure.

For Giddens the very concepts of ‘agent’ and ‘agency’ involve people having the ability to transform the world about them through their actions, as well as being able to produce it. That does not mean that agents necessarily transform society, or for that matter reproduce it in ways which they intend. Human actions may well have consequences which were not anticipated by the agents involved. He gives the example of going home and switching on a light in order to illuminate a room. An unintended consequence of this might be that a burglar is alerted and flees the house and in doing so is apprehended by the police, and ultimately ends up spending several years in prison. Such unintended consequences can also result in patterns of social life which were not necessarily intended to be produced by any individual. Thus, for example, decisions by individuals in society about where to live might produce a situation, which nobody had actually intended, in which some inner –city areas start to decay and develop and concentration of social problems.

Determinism and voluntarism

In his theory of the duality of structure Giddens tries to show how the traditional distinction between social structure and social action does not necessitate seeing society in terms of one or the other: structure and agency are locked together in the processes through which social life is reproduced and transformed. In a similar fashion, he tries to resolve the dispute between determinists, who believe that human behaviour is entirely determined by outside forces, and voluntarists, who believe that humans possess free will, and can act as they wish. Giddens believes neither theory to be true, but he sees both as have some element of truth. He believes that only in very exceptional circumstances are humans completely constrained. Complete constraint only occurs where physical force is used, for example, where a person is unwillingly knocked to the ground by someone else. In all other circumstances, even where people claim to ‘have no choice’, there are options open to them. Thus if a person holds a gun to someone’s head and threatens to shoot them if they do not hand over some money, the option of refusing is still open, even though there is a risk of death by making that choice. In other words it is nearly always possible to ‘do otherwise’, to do something different. Constraints according to Giddens do not therefore determine actions, but operate ‘by placing limits upon the range of options open to an actor.

In society humans are constrained by the existence of power relationships. Giddens sees al social action as involving power relationships. He sees power as the ability to make a difference, to change things from what they would otherwise have been or, as he puts it ‘transformative capacity’. For him, the idea of human agency involves the idea of transformation capacity, and this capacity of power may be used to change things, or the actions of other people, and so constrain people and reduce their freedom. At the same time though, power also increases the freedom of action of the agents who possess it. What restricts one person, enables another to do more.

Most of Giddens’s work is highly abstract, and he offers few examples of how his theory of structuration could be applied to the study of society. However, he does praise Paul Willis’s book Learning of Labour. Giddens claims that Willis’s work shows how structures can be actively reproduced by the action of agents as an unintended consequence of the actions reproduced by the action of agents as an unintended consequence of the actions. Thus by their rejection of school and their determination to do manual jobs, the ‘lads’ reproduce some general features of capitalist industrial labour. Furthermore, constraints are not simply experienced as external forces of which they are passive recipients. Instead the ‘lads’ are actively involved in making the decisions which come to constrain them. Because they choose not to work hard at school, they end up with very limited options in later life when they are choosing what work to do. Giddens claims that if sociology is to progress beyond the division between action and structure, it requires more studies like Willis’s which show how structures are reproduced by purposeful human agents.

Criticisms of Giddens

Although Giddens’s ideas are still developing, they have been the subject of some criticism. Margaret S Archer criticises Giddens for licking agency and structure too tightly together. She suggests that the concepts have different implications. The idea of structure tends to stress the limits on human action, the idea of agency stresses the existence of free will, and the two are never reconciled. In her view, Giddens puts too much emphasis on the ability of agents to transform structures simply byt changing their behaviour. Giddens ‘s work implies that if people were to start acting differently tomorrow, then all of society’s structures would immediately be changed. According to Archer this is not the case. The possibilities for changing social structures, and the extent to which humans have the ability to transfor the world, depend on the nature of the social structures. She uses the example of Fidel Castro’s policy on illiteracy when he took power in Cuba. He wanted to conquer illiteracy by getting each literate person to teach an illiterate to read. Archer points out that this could not be achieved overnight, and, furthermore, how quickly it could be achieved depended on a structural feature of Cuban society: the percentage of the population who were literate. Thus 1% of the population were literate, a much more lengthy period would be involved than if 50% of the population were literate. This demonstrates to Archer that structural features of society cannot just be changed at will, at least not on a time scale that the actors involved might wish

Archer similarly takes Giddens to task for suggesting that ‘material resources’ only enter social life and exercise a constraining influence of social actions when humans choose to make use of them. For example, a flood or volcanic eruption, or a shortage of land, is not the product of human will, but exercises a real, material constraint on options, regardless of human actions. For example, once all the coal in the ground has been burned, it cannot be burned again.

In short, Archer suggests people cannot just change or reproduce society as they wish. Some structural features of society are beyond their control and constrain behaviour. She accepts that humans have both some degree of freedom, and some limits on how they act, but a theory which does not move beyond this generalisation says little. Giddens notes both the possibility of freedom of action and social change, and the constraints and the reproduction of social institutions. What Giddens does not do, though, is explain which of these will happen in particular circumstances. Archer says ‘the theory of structuration remains incomplete because it provides an insufficient account of the mechanisms of stable replication versus to genesis of new social forums.

Structure/Agency Is/Ought Trap

Opposite pole theory – structure`and agency are opposed qualities of social life

Structure: system of rules that dictate forms of social actions that are conceivable and acceptable.

“Structure” as concept serves to identify those patterns of social actions that lead to the reproduction of a social order

Agency: ability of individuals and subgroups to autonomously act within social order

“agency” refers to the degree to which individuals are ‘free’ to act in ways they see fit (though
these generally serve to reproduce the social order in which people act)

In this notion, these two concepts are opposed: if there is agency in society, then the structure is presumed to be weak; if there is a strong structure, individuals only act to serve the reproduction of social order

Continuum theory – ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ represent ideal forms of social practices; every society can be placed on a continuum from ‘pure structure’ and ‘pure agency’

Structure: patterns of ideas about social action, allocation of resources, and agency that are transposable, polysemic (have multiple meanings), intersect, and are multiple (e.g. race, class, gender, nationality).

“structure” here identifies a range of types of action that provide the individual with the basis for the individual with the basis for their individual action.

Agency: ability to act upon desires, intentions, meanings provided to individual by their embeddedness in a social order; indicates a degree of autonomy to act in ways that may not directly reproduce a social order.

Here, the interdependence of structure and agency as social forms allow for evaluation of the degree of ‘freedom’ in a society as well as of the justice of society.

Is/ought trap

Refers to a logical trap in some social theory and philosophy texts – namely, taking that which exists as what ought to exist; one example: saying that ‘might makes right’ is an ideal conception of justice simply because that is the concept of justice currently used

Also refers to the distinction between three types of social theory:
1. descriptive – describes the social order as it is
2. diagnostic – lays out some idea of what the problems with a society are
3. prescriptive – outlines an idea of what the ideal society ought to be.

By kathryn delevingne at Tue, 2003/11/25 - 6:00am

I think KWord should be renamed to FWord!

By Per Wigren at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am

Found this screenshot of OTS:

I think having it in KWord would be not only cool, but maybe even useful. :)

By ML at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am

Umm, all I can see that it did was it removed the paragraphs and the quote "It's a terrible thing"

By john at Sat, 2003/06/28 - 5:00am

Illusion of making things look shorter but apparently no change in content.

By Illusion at Sat, 2003/06/28 - 5:00am

I think KDE should start a campaign against EU software patents or support FFII and the others before McCarthy will convince the rest of the parliament.

Perhaps we can add a parliamentarian database as a sample file for Kontakt.

LinuxTag also may be a good plattform to issue our great concern about the patent lawyer conspiracy :-)

By Gerd at Fri, 2003/06/27 - 5:00am


it would be great if this really annoying bug would disappear:


so please:
try to reproduce it, and vote for it!

By yg at Sat, 2003/06/28 - 5:00am

just added this comment to BR#59113:

using CVS HEAD and trying very, very hard to reproduce this bug on a PII400 (so not exactly a speed demon; i'm even compiling kdelibs at the moment) i can not reproduce this. i've followed the instructions to the letter and everything works as it should.


who knows, maybe it's fixed; or at least harder to trigger?

By Aaron J. Seigo at Sat, 2003/06/28 - 5:00am