Conceptualizing and Applying Relational Sociology II

Tuesday May 17 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Virtual Platform

Session Code: RES2B
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, Decolonization, Dewey, Networks, Race and Ethnicity, Social Structure, Theory

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


Christopher Powell, Toronto Metropolitan University

Shame Economies

Drawing on the affect theory of Ahmed, Massumi, and Sedgwick, and relational sociologies of emotion stretching back to Elias, Mead, Hochschild, and Smith, this paper examines (a) how shame moves from person to person, circulating through social relations, (b) how this circulation produces an emergent economy of shame, (c) how this economy stabilizes the social order, including relations of domination, exclusion, and systemic violence, and (d) how modeling the economy of shame could aid in egalitarian social transformation. My own work on genocide proposes that what Elias calls the ‘civilizing process’ establishes social order by propagating a network of relations of deferentiation, in which subjects defer the violence of the sovereign by deferring to the sovereign’s authority, locking social difference into relations of domination. Shame is both external/objective, an inferior social status, and interior/subjective, a negative self-appraisal. To compensate for their shameful subjugation to the sovereign, privileged subjects pass their shame on to others: men to women, white colonizers to Indigenous and racialized peoples, straights to queers, and so on. These passings-on are integral to the emotional coherence of privileged subjects, so that challenges to privilege based on universalistic conceptions of justice trigger the return of deferred shame, which subjects find genuinely painful. This pain helps explain both performative activism and white fragility, which attempt to avoid the painful shame of losing privilege through either co-optation or denial. Since not challenging privilege would only maintain the status quo, the shame economy presents a strategic challenge for actors seeking systemic transformation. Anti-racist education provides some models for responding effectively to this challenge.

Benjamin Klasche, Tallinn University

Decolonized relational sociology at the foundation of global IR theory

The need for a transformation or re-casting of International Relations (as an academic discipline) that requires it to step away from its Eurocentricism (Bilgin, 2016) and its Whiteness (Sabaratnam, 2020) has been called for several times, among others, by demanding a Global IR theory (Acharya and Buzan, 2017) that addresses and corrects IRs Western bias, acknowledges the difference in the experience of the members of the international community, and creates equity of the authority of knowledge produced outside of the colonial heartland (Tickner and Smith, 2020). The list of demands that a transformation of the discipline must consider must, therefore, be also expanded with the need to acknowledge the interconnectedness of humans, non-humans and even the ecosphere (esp. Kurki, 2020). This all points towards processual relationalisms potential to advance the cause for Global IR theorising. However, based mostly on a European and white canon, processual relationalism is just another Western theory that might be problematic to apply universally (see, e.g., Go, 2018). Therefore, a need for decolonization arises. One way to decolonise a subject is critically examining whether the discipline remains indebted to approaches that emerged in imperial centers…ruling over the colonial margins (Shilliam, 2021, p. 3). Another option arises by engaging and connecting with indigenous or autonomous sociological work (Meghji, 2020, ch. 2). However, it is very important to not just study indigenous knowledge to reproduce colonial ideas but also to overcome the splitting of the world in the West and the rest and instead birth radical relationalism (Meghji, 2020, ch. 1). I firmly believe that a truly global IR theory must incorporate knowledge from the disregarded traditions to paint the desired picture, and relationalism could be the binding force for this project.

Zoltan Lakatos, Budapest University of Technology and Economics

Structural Inequality as a Challenge for Comparison in Discourse Analysis

Barriers to comparison of socially meaningful objects (groups, behaviors, attitudes, etc.) across different contexts are an ongoing concern, as attested by advances in research aimed at detecting and overcoming them. This paper presents problems stemming from structural variance (incongruity) of discourse contexts which, in addition to pertaining to different socio-cultural groups are also separated by a century plus gap: Press coverage of, respectively, late-19th Jewish and early-21st century Muslim migrants. Their study involving geometric data analysis displays the crux of the apples-to-oranges problem in that the investigation seeks to find (a) in a joint space of the two groups (b) discourse clusters (frames) capturing distinct logics of representation and (c) the latent dimensions in which those frames get articulated. A commonsensical yet mistaken route would be to isolate those clusters in a "pancultural" analysis (that is, in a joint sample but ignoring the two subsets), as some of the discourse frames isolated without considering the groups represented (Jews versus Muslims) might not be found in their respective subsamples. As a result, the researcher might gloss over frames that only exist in discourse on one of the groups. On the other hand, when looking for group-specific frames within separate samples, another issue arises in terms of dimensionality since the latent forces structuring the discourses in the two subsamples are likely to be incomparable (if anything, at the metric level). Nonetheless, innovative methods from the geometric data analytical toolkit make it possible to both reveal group-specific discourse clusters and locate these along dimensions that are common to the groups. The implications include the group-specific mechanisms at work in representation: Like attitudes in general, racialization is relational, hence impossible to apprehend with reference to a general template.

Monica Sanchez-Flores, Thompson Rivers University

A relational theory of autopoietic communication

In this paper, I examine Niklas Luhmann’s theory of Social Systems and discuss the usefulness of autopoietic communication to conceptualize social interaction (trans-action) in late global capitalism. However, Luhmann’s macro representation of the social fails to consider the micro aspect of embodied human meaning making that I argue is structurally coupled to communication and to human language(s). Luhmann explicitly takes the notion of autopoiesis from biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, while he conceptualizes human beings in his theory as “psychic systems” (with problematic embodiments). Maturana has proposed that people’s nervous systems are coupled to human meaning making and language(s), and that languages are alive and sustained in the relationality of people. From a relational perspective, I suggest that human biology and cognition is necessary to explain meaning making and communication at all levels of social analysis. Using Maturana’s theory and other conceptual sources, I translate Luhmann’s macro theory of meaning and communication into a relational theory that includes and conceptualizes embodied human beings in relation and conversation with one another as well as social systems in communicative trans-action in late modernity. This exercise may throw some light into approaching analysis of complex systemic socially constructed processes (such as racialization and racism).