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From Medieval Latin agentia, from Latin agēns (present participle of agere (to act)), agentis (cognate with French agence, see also agent).


  • IPA(key): /ˈeɪ.d͡ʒə
  • Audio (US):(file)



agency (countable and uncountable, plural agencies)

  1. The capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power.
    Synonyms: action, activity, operation
    • 1695, John Woodward, “(please specify the page)”, in An Essay toward a Natural History of the Earth: And Terrestrial Bodies, Especially Minerals: [], London: [] Ric[hard] Wilkin [], →OCLC:
      A few advances there are in the following papers tending to assert the superintendence and agency of Providence in the natural world.
    • 2018, Morris Zelditch, Status, Power, and Legitimacy, page 65:
      Because structure in this argument means institutions— pregiven norms, values, beliefs, and practices— it is open-textured, incomplete, cannot guarantee its own applications, therefore, all behavior is action, has agency (Garfinkel 1964; Strauss et al. 1963).
  2. (sociology, philosophy, psychology) The capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.
    Coordinate terms: free will, structure
    moral agency
    individual agency
    • 2001, Todd McGowan, The Feminine "No!", SUNY Press, →ISBN, page 105:
      Formally, capitalism performs its fundamental gesture—reappropriation without transformation. This bears on the question of subjective agency because this “reappropriation without transformation” is exactly what agency seeks to avoid; such a process indicates, in fact, that one's agency has failed, that one really had no agency in the first place.
    • 2012, Edmund V. Sullivan, A Critical Psychology, Springer Science & Business Media, →ISBN, page 75:
      Strictly speaking, at the level of personal agency one could say that power is a condition where one is “enabled.” I would contend that this is a condition of personal agency.
    • 2013, Andy Clark, Julian Kiverstein, Tillmann Vierkant, Decomposing the Will, Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 112:
      The feeling of being in control of one's body should involve the sense of body-ownership, plus an additional sense of agency.
  3. A medium through which power is exerted or an end is achieved.
    Synonyms: instrumentality, means
  4. The office or function of an agent; also, the relationship between a principal and that person's agent.
    authority of agency
  5. An establishment engaged in doing business for another; also, the place of business or the district of such an agency.
    Synonym: management
    Hyponyms: advertising agency, dating agency, employment agency, escort agency, introduction agency, modelling agency, news agency, press agency, relief agency, syndication agency, travel agency
    • 2012, Simon Toms, The Impact of the UK Temporary Employment Industry in Assisting Agency Workers since the Year 2000, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, →ISBN, page 277:
      As an employment agency you have a responsibility to supply work to the individual agency worker, as well as a service to the client.
  6. A department or other administrative unit of a government; also, the office or headquarters of, or the district administered by such unit of government.
    Hyponyms: antitrust agency, intelligence agency, space agency
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Central Intelligence Agency

Derived terms




Further reading