Conceptualizing and applying relational sociology

Tuesday Jun 04 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm
ANGU 293

Session Code: RES1
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Relational Sociology
Session Categories: Regular Session

Relational sociology is a new research field that has been on the rise in recent years (decades) as demonstrated by the works of Nick Crossely, Pierpaolo Donati, Mustafa Emirbayer and François Dépelteau among many others. This is a very exciting moment for researchers since the field is still in the making and has yet to congeal durably. Relational sociology therefore marks a great opportunity for researchers coming from different theoretical backgrounds (social networks analysis, critical realism, feminist epistemology, Elias’ configurational approach, Bourdieu’s field theory, Luhmann’s systems theory, Latour’s ANT, Deleuze’s philosophy, Dewey’s pragmatism, etc.) and studying different empirical objects (power, music, creativity, social movements, life trajectories, nation building, leadership, genocide, mobility, etc.) to engage in a dialogue with each other in order to better explore the relational or dynamic and processual aspects of social life. Presentations can focus on, (i) theoretical issues within one paradigm or across the entire field, (ii) relational analyses of empirical phenomena, (iii) anything in between! Tags: Social Structure and Networks, Social Theory

Organizers: Jean-Sebastien Guy, Dalhousie University, Peeter Selg, Tallinn University


Scott Eacott, UNSW Sydney

Recasting the image of 'the school' through a relational analysis

This paper explicitly embraces the session theme of conceptualizing and applying relational sociology through a relational analysis of school reform. Focusing on an innovative approach to school consolidation in regional New South Wales, Australia where instead of two schools comign together on a single site the reform is for ‘one school, two sites’, it is argued that this innovative approach to school consolidation requires new theoretical resources to understand ‘the school’. Theoretically informed by Eacott’s relational approach and drawing on publicly available data (e.g., government data on the MySchool website) and focus groups with school leaders, this paper argues that: i) complicity with the idea and materiality of ‘the school’ makes it difficult to thinking differently about schooling; ii) the image of the school is constantly shaped by, and shaping of, community identity; and iii) to articulate an alternative requires a shift away from an entity-based (substantialist) perspective. Working with the three key concepts of the relational approach – organizing activity_, auctor_, and spatio-temporal conditions – this paper proposes an alternate way of thinking about school consolidation and the intellectual resources to do so.   

Qiang Fu, University of British Columbia

From Place-making to Relation-making: Assessing Four Relational Perspectives on Mental Health

Is there still a place for ecological determinants in the contemporary formulations of urban space? If yes, with theoretical advances in the last century can we transcend the human-ecology approach to the city and propose a more compelling explanation? This study comparatively investigates the socio-spatial nature of urban neighborhoods in China and critically synthesizes four relational models (social network, place attachment, collective efficacy, and neighborhood politics) to understand the perplexing negative impact of neighborhood population size on mental health. Based on a structural equation analysis of 37 urban neighborhoods, this study demonstrates that among the four possible pathways linking ecology to mentality the social-network, collective-efficacy, and neighborhood-politics pathways, especially the last one, mediate the effect of neighborhood population size on depression. The relational interpretation, together with its practical and theoretical implications, are further discussed against the backdrop of political economy of place.

Zoltan Lakatos, Budapest University of Technology and Economics

Rethinking Distance Between Sets: Substantialist Fallacies and Relational Alternatives

From many a sociologists fixation on the variables stems a reductionist thinking about set properties, and hence distance between sets. Given the prominence of the General Linear Model, approaches to distance measurement favoring straightforward indicators like averages, medians, nearest/furthest neighbors, medians, squared deviations, etc. ― all deemed to express "core" properties ― often end up applying a substantialist template. Expounding these limitations, the relational philosophy of geometric data analysis privileges methods with which it is easier to capture set complexity. As an illustration, I use the Hausdorff metric to measure the cultural distance between and within European historical regions. Mostly unnoticed in the social sciences, the Hausdorff distance is preferable because it takes into account not only some vague indicator expressing the location but also the size and the dispersion of the sets. Applying this metric to country-level data from values surveys, the conclusions about inter- and intraregional cultural distances and the evolution thereof are at odds with the results obtained with the "substantialist", centroid-based method. For example, during the two decades following the collapse of Communist regimes the Post-Soviet region (excl. the Baltics) and Western Europe had grown closer in terms of cultural values, and the Baltics had not become more dissimilar to Russia. Most strikingly, both what used to be called the "Eastern" and the "Western" blocs had become culturally more homogeneous than they were in 1990.

Luo Jia, Yunnan Normal University; Demchok Tashi, Independent Researcher

A Sociological Inter-reflections of Multilingual Practices in Tibetan Society

This chapter articulates sociological interreflection of multilingual practices in Tibetan society within China based on the structuration theory. Such a society has been practicing multilingualism for decades but it still remains as an under-researched area from a sociological perspective. To examine the macro social reality of multilingual practices and education in Tibetan social context, this chapter extends the book: “Social Structuration in Tibetan Society: Education, Society, and Spirituality,” particularly, linking the relationship of multilingual practices to both micro and macro social structuration of Tibetan society, and to the dilemma of maintaining social-cultural identity or shift to other identities. The book built a theoretical foundation of applying structuration theory to Tibetan society that enables us to conducts a further investigation of how multilingualism resulting Tibetan social structural change in China.  As a result, multilingual education and practice increase individual opportunity, but at the same time, it is producing and reproducing divisive primary social groups and linguistically divided social members in Tibetan oral society. The tendency of oral multilingualism and multilingual oral literacy practice is becoming an inevitable social phenomenon within Tibetan oral society. On the other hand, multilingual abilities are empowering purely mother-tongue based institutions by receiving new knowledge through various language channels. In short, this chapter will fully employ the structuration theory to theoretically map-out the examination of multilingualism and its practice in both Tibetan oral and literate societies within the greater context of China.   

Francois Lachapelle, University of British Columbia

The Rise of the Semi-Core: Americanization and Localization of Canada's Academic Field Since the Late-Post-War Era (1977-2017)

Many voices across the Canadian academic field are concerned about the supposed ongoing re-Americanization of Canadian professoriate’s national PhD origin while others suggest such forces only affect the country’s largest research-intensive universities (Wilkinson et al. 2013). As the narrative suggest, this current wave of re-Americanization come after a period of committed Canadianization between the mid-1970s and the late-1990s. This paper first seeks to fill the empirical gap by documenting longitudinally for the very first time these movements of external domination and indigenizing reaction. Secondly, the author argues to go beyond methodological nationalism (specifically here beyond domestic faculty’s national PhD origin). The goal is to shift the deadlock Canada vs. U.S./foreign binary to capture the larger institutional structure in which both the Canadian and American university-based scientific fields are embedded. The paper therefore go beyond analysis dealing with national ties and colonial heritage to uncover the existence of stratified institutional networks of PhDs exchange between Canada’s top 15 research-intensive univeristies (U15 group) and U.S. and British schools who occupy the global scientific field’s core. The conceptual result of this analytical shift is the suggestion of a sophisticated core-periphery model where (1) Canada’s three dominant schools—McGill, Toronto, and UBC—occupied the “glocal semi-core”, (2) Alberta, McMaster, Queen’s, Waterloo, and Western the “local semi-core”, and (3) Calgary, Dalhousie, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan the “local semi-periphery”. This study is based on the largest longitudinal dataset detailing the academic trajectories of 4,936 U15 faculty who work(ed) in social science departments—Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology—between 1977 and 2017.