“You have to do something”: Snoring, sleep interembodiment and the emergence of agency

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Although the sociology of sleep is a growing subfield, little is known about agency in the context of sleep. This article contributes to the sociological literature by showing how different types of agency emerge as a result of sleep interembodiment (i.e., experiencing sleep partners’ bodies as intertwined). The study draws on qualitative data generated through in-depth interviews with 70 snorers and 20 sleep partners of snorers. Interviews were conducted in Israel and were analysed following constructivist grounded theory principles. Results indicate that two types of agency coexist and, in fact, co-constitute one another: The first type, herein termed material agency, reflects the post-humanist tradition, which conceptualizes agents as entities (whether human or nonhuman) that alter a state of affairs by making a difference in another agent's action. This type of agency exists in both wakefulness and throughout periods of sleep, as the snorer’s body acts and interacts with a partner's body in ways that engender significant change in their lives, relationships, and actions. In contrast, the second type, herein termed reflexive agency, reflects the humanist tradition, which regards agency as individuals' creative and assertive capacities motivated by intentionality and reflexivity. This type of agency declines significantly during stages of deep sleep but re-emerges in response to partners' actions. The article adds to the literature by refining the concept of agency and elucidating its relationship to both accountability and interembodiment. In addition, the article provides much-needed empirical evidence showing how “personal responsibility” for health, as required by neoliberal discourses, is invoked within families, specifically with regard to sleep. This study therefore shows how certain macro-level structures of neoliberalism are enacted and reinforced within micro-level interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1000-1015
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 London School of Economics and Political Science


  • accountability
  • agency
  • interembodiment
  • responsibility
  • sleep
  • snoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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