Choice as a category of human activity

and some of its contextual constraints


  • Erich Steiner Saarland University



choice, evaluation, activity, subject, habitus


Choice has been built into Systemic Functional Linguistics from its beginning. It has a specialized technical meaning in SFL not to be equated with its sense in philosophical and sociological discourses. However, many of these other senses of choice form cultural contexts for the SFL-term, and some of these contexts will be addressed in an exploration of their significance for acts of evaluation as a necessary prerequisite for human agency. We shall start by discussing unproblematized notions of the freedom of choice of the autonomous individual as represented in a popular essay by David Foster-Wallace (2012). These notions will be criticized in the spirit of the critique of the notion of Subject by Foucault (1966), and of sociological work by Bourdieu (1979) on habitus in modern societies, both of which call the notion of the autonomous individual very much into question. We shall then turn to attempts to defend the notion of the Subject and of choice by locating its roots in key elements of Greek philosophy and their further development in both Christian and post-enlightenment materialist and Marxist reasoning (Habermas 2008). For systemic linguistics, the notions of choice and of the value-systems upon which choice needs to be based (Halliday 2001) are crucial for motivating the concepts of activity and social agency, so essential for an integrated sociolinguistic theory (Hasan 2009).

Author Biography

Erich Steiner, Saarland University

Erich Steiner is Chair Translation Studies English in the Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarland University, Germany.


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How to Cite

Steiner, E. (2018). Choice as a category of human activity: and some of its contextual constraints. Linguistics and the Human Sciences, 11(2-3), 158–177.