Brock University

Conceptualizing and Applying Relational Sociology I

For the third consecutive year, we invite papers in the field of relational sociology. In one way all sociological thinking has always been relational, while in another sense relational sociology promises a revolution in sociological thought. Yet there is no consensus on what relations are, how to observe and measure them, or how they work. From a focus on relations as one type of social action or structure among others, to the use of relational concepts as a general epistemology for understanding all social practices, relational sociology means different things to different scholars. This session brings together papers oriented to relationality in diverse ways, to push forward the state of the art through dissensus and dialogue. Therefore we solicit papers on principles, concepts, methods, applications, advantages and limits of relational sociology. Included papers may address such topics as self-reflexivity, transactions, agency, interdependency, relational methodologies, and relational social structures or mechanisms or processes, interdisciplinary connections, and the implications of relational thinking for critical theory, amongst other possibilities.

Session Organizer: Francois Depelteau, Laurentian University, ; Christopher Powell, Ryerson University,


Searle's Language Theory As a Possible Solution for Hidden Problems on Max Weber's Knowledge Conception and His Social Action Theory

Hugo Neri, University of São Paulo,

The classic German sociologist Max Weber structured the foundations of a sociological theory of action. Amid nearly a century ago, many problems emerged about the epistemological status of social knowledge agents and about the intersubjectivity itself, which were not placed at Weber's time. Among them, there were important propositions about the necessity of considering language as essential human characteristic which enables social life: meaning. To solve such problems I propose to use the theory speech acts proposed by the philosopher John Searle and its implications for his explanation of social reality. Using  Searle’s language theorizing and epistemological indispensability of language to the social intersubjectivities constructions, it is possible to update Weber’s social action theory. Thus, we obtained a consistent methodological tool to cope with the problems of knowledge related to the dichotomy between subject and object. For that, we should focus on intersubjective linguistic constructions and sedimentations as proposed by Searle. These language sedimentation, responsible for creating the social reality is caused by the weberian explanation of knowledge development, the process of intellectualization - reconstructed from his religion's studies. In sum, Weber’s action and knowledge development theory would gain unity at the moment we use Searle’s speech act Theory.


From relation between actors to relations between actions: the difference metric/nonmetric in Weber

Jean-Sebastien Guy, Dalhousie University,

The goal in this presentation is to look in Weber’s works for elements to help developing the difference between metric and nonmetric as an alternative (or an addition) to the micro/macro and structure/agency dichotomies. I concentrate on Weber’s views of sociology as science of action. From Deleuze and Guattari, I borrow the opposition between tree and rhizome to move Weber away from methodological individualism. Actions are not primarily tied to actors as physical persons, but to differences between meanings delineated by ideal-types at a virtual level.  Weber inspires us not to follow the fate of individual actors through their life (in terms of rise and fall, decline and renewal, challenges and resilience, etc.), but to study variations within and across species of actions. Not the actors for themselves, but the relations between them as types of meaningful actions and how these relations exist alongside other relations and how all these relations evolve from one motive to another (e.g. from value-rational motives to traditional or instrumental-rational motives) and from one type to another (e.g. from one-time social action to long-term social order to legitimate structure of authority). The difference metric/nonmetric is mapped onto the recurring patterns revealed by Weber’s analysis.


Durkheim, social things and relational sociology: fundamental ontological confusion?

Francois Depelteau, Laurentian University,

Qualified readers of Durkheim mentioned there are different interpretations of his work. J. Alexander, for instance, identified four different Durkheims. In this paper, I will focus on two interpretations based on incompatible ontological views: Durkheim as a deterministic thinkers, and Durkheim as a relational thinker. I will argue that these two possible interpretations reflect some fundamental ontological confusion in the work of Durkheim. In fact, this type of confusion is one unresolved and basic issue which have characterized sociology (and social sciences) from its beginning until today. This problem will have to be resolved if we want to improve sociology as we know it, and the analysis of related Durkheim's problems offer a great opportunity to do this needed work.


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