Conceptualizing and Applying Relational Sociology I

Tuesday May 17 11:00 am to 12:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Virtual Platform

Session Code: RES2A
Session Format: Regular Session
Session Language: English, French
Research Cluster Affiliation: Relational Sociology
Session Categories: Regular Session

Relational sociology is a research field that has been on the rise in recent years as demonstrated by the works of Donati, Emirbayer, Crossley and Dépelteau. This is an exciting moment since the field is still in the making. This marks a great opportunity for researchers coming from different theoretical backgrounds and studying different empirical objects to engage in a dialog with each other to explore the dynamic and processual aspects of social life. Tags: Culture, Networks, Social Structure, Theory

Organizer: Monica Sanchez-Flores, Thompson Rivers University; Chair: Monica Sanchez-Flores, Thompson Rivers University


Peeter Selg, Tallinn University

A Relational Approach to Process-Tracing and Case Study Research

In this paper, the author aims to problematize from a trans-actional or process-relational perspective all five elements that are usually considered the fundamental components of case study research design. These elements are: 1) the research question; 2) the role of theory or hypothesis; 3) the understanding of units of analysis; 4) the relationship between empirical data and theories; 5) the criteria for interpretation of the findings of case study research. All of these elements are usually defined and reflected upon in inter-actional or variable-centered manner in empirical case studies and methodological reflections both in quantitative or qualitative approaches. The trans-actional or process-relational sociology as proposed via pragmatist tradition by Emirbayer, Dépelteau, Abbott and the author of this paper among others tries to avoid process-reduction in research as far as possible. One of the crucial research strategies (sometimes also deemed a method) to increase internal validity of case study research is called “process-tracing”. In the second part, the paper considers what would process-tracing look like without reifying the outcome of the process into a dependent variable (quantitative or qualitative). Such reification happens even in approaches that explicitly call themselves “processual”. Taking lead from the above mentioned authors (with special emphasis on Abbott’s 'Processual Sociology' [2016]) the author reflects on how such reifications can be avoided. Finally, a couple of illustrations are provided of the approach based on the analysis performed in the forthcoming book 'A Relational Turn in Governing Wicked Problems: From Governance Failure to Failure Governance' (forthcoming in Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) on the different governance responses to the COVID-19 crisis by Taiwan, USA and Germany.

Peter Lenco, St. Francis Xavier University

Constitution, Sufficient Reason and the Possible in Relational Sociology

One of the key points of debate in relational sociology has to do with the nature and function of causality or, perhaps more productively articulated, constitution. The paper argues that in order to (more) fully understand relations in the social sciences, a more nuanced approach to the constitutive relationship is required. The paper beings with Alain Badious dismissal of Leibnizs famous exposition of the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) well-travelled territory in philosophy, but almost terra incognita in sociology. Badiou is critical of Leibnizs PSR for ultimately leading causality back to a single, fixed source (God), thus precluding the ontological possibility of the event, something clearly Badiou cannot do without. I have a great deal of sympathy for this critique, but the paper argues that it is possible to reconcile PSR with the event. PSR can posit suitable reasons for every state of affairs, but these must be understood as directly linked to events; or, every state of affairs has a sufficient reason, but that reason is not deployed according to a plan, God, will or intellect, or in fact any intervention whatsoever. Rather, the world is a processual unfolding through events, events that we can map according to the immanent relations they effect. This argument is achieved only by denying the (notion of the) possible, as Deleuze does in Bergsonism. In short, everything happens for a reason, but that reason results in fundamentally emergent relations.

Joonatan Nõgisto, Tallinn University

On The Need for Ontological Bookkeeping in Relational Sociology

This article is an intervention into the ontological debates within relational sociology, an intellectual field coalesced around the contention to put social relations at the center of sociological theorizing and research. The article proposes principles of ontological bookkeeping for keeping track of and comparing the ontological cost of relational theories, based on their explicit and implicit ontological commitments, i.e.  the kinds of entities that must exist for statements made within the theory to be considered true. Such principles can serve to help demarcate the boundary of the scientific field of relational sociology, while also enabling us to hold relational scholars to account on their theoretical promises. Two contrasting ontic criteria are proposed to answer the question “what makes a theory relational?”: the first is inclusivist and is defined by the presence of an explicit ontological commitment to social relations; the second is exclusivist and is defined by the lack of implicit commitment to any other kind of entity. Depending on which criteria comes to mark the boundary of the discipline, it is argued that the future of Relational Sociology and its relation to the classical canon of social theory looks remarkably different.