Relational sociology and methodology I

Tuesday Jun 04 8:30 am to 10:00 am
ANGU 293

Session Code: RES2a
Session Format: Regular
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Relational Sociology
Session Categories: Regular Session

Relational sociology is a new field of research that opens up a middle way between top-down and bottom-up theoretical approaches (or holism and individualism respectively) by concentrating on the lived relations (interactions or transactions) between social actors and observing how these relations build up and change over time, thus shedding light on the dynamic and processual aspects of social life. Following Mustafa Emirbayer, we can thus conceive relational sociology in broad terms as a rejection of substantialism as the idea that social reality is made out of things rather than processes. Albeit very promising, the project of relational sociology raises new challenges as well, notably when it comes to research methods. How to operationalize a relational approach? What kind of data is most appropriate when examining social processes so as to unambiguously unpack their processual character? Does relational sociology call for a new method for collecting data What could be a paradigmatic example of relational analysis? Presentations can focus on relational methodologies as a general problem or share research strategies deployed in the spirit of relational sociology. Tags: Social Structure and Networks, Social Theory

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


Patty Thille, University of Manitoba

Enacting objects and subjects in a neuromuscular clinic

In health care clinics, problems are constructed through interactions. Human and non-human actors together enact objects of concern, an insight explored in Annemarie Mol’s The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice_. Attempts to create particular objects of clinical concern also call on the humans involved to be particular types of subjects. Objectification and subjectification are, then, interrelated in the clinic. In this analysis, we explored attempted, co-existing objectification and subjectification processes in a Canadian neuromuscular clinic across a series of 24 observed appointments with young people with muscular dystrophy. Mol’s theoretical and methodological insights about ontology and objects - as well as related scholars - do not attend to the micro-details of speech in ways that can consider subjectification processes. In this presentation, I will highlight how we integrated Davies and Harré’s (1990) arguments about positioning, and insights from conversation analysis about repair-oriented utterances. We did so to be able to study the interrelated, sociomaterial processes of negotiating human identities while enacting clinical objects.

Paul Joosse, University of Hong Kong

Incredulous Onlookers and the Miracle of Social Levitation: A Relational Account of the Charismatic Performance of Donald Trump

This paper returns to the central feature of charismatic legitimacy—miraculous proof—and offers a social-interactional account of its etiology. Drawing on elements from the performative turn in social theory, and on previous work that has described “charismatic counter-roles,” the paper develops the concept of incredulous onlookers: those prominent disbelievers who, through expressions of shock, exasperation, and moral outrage, help to define societal expectations about the (seeming) impossibility of the leader’s success. Equipped with an imposibilist characterization, even minor victories by the aspiring charismatic leader come to be regarded as miraculous. By performing incredulousness along both sceptical and moralistic modalities, these actors thereby create what is in essence the social-interactional negative-image of the charismatic miracle. I find that incredulous onlookers played a critical role in buoying and propelling the “Trump phenomenon.”

Thomas Kemple, University of British Columbia

Object-Oriented Sociology: Simmelating Social Relations

In a short essay published in 1912, “On Some Contemporary Problems in Philosophy”, Georg Simmel answers a question that also drives his career-long studies in philosophical sociology and cultural metaphysics: “When will the genius appear who will emancipate us from the spell of the subject in the same way that Kant liberated us from that of the object? And what will this third category be?” This paper takes its point of departure from my recent book _Simmel _(Polity 2018), in particular how Simmel’s ‘life-sociology’ treats the forms and functions of objects primarily as relationships rather than solely as substances. In particular, I focus on his treatment of metal coins and vending machines in the _Philosophy of Money _(1900), jewelry and letters in _Sociology _(1908), and ruins and handles in _Philosophical Culture _(1911)_. _With reference to some recent developments in ‘the relational turn’ (such as Emirbayer 2013, Dépelteau 2018), I argue that Simmel’s writings are a neglected yet important classical source for addressing some contemporary problems in sociology.

Sonja Sapach, University of Alberta

"Let's Play" with Relational Sociology: Autoethnographically Exploring the Resolution of Alienation through Participation in Video Game Culture.

Due to a series of anecdotally perceived connections between sociological conceptions of alienation (Seeman, 1959) and my own experiences with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I have adopted an autoethnographic methodological approach in my dissertation research. I have found that the relationships that I have formed with others, as well as with myself, through video game culture, have allowed me to largely resolve the symptoms of C-PTSD that most closely resemble symptoms of sociological alienation - described by Jaeggi (2014) as an explicit relation of relationlessness between the self and the self, others, and the environment. I intend to take up your challenge to share research strategies deployed in the spirit of relational sociology. To best understand how my various relationships with other people, with video games, and with myself, evolved throughout my life, I adopted two methods of data gathering. The first involved standard journaling exploring past memories and current ongoing life events. The second involved recording myself while playing video games from various key points throughout my life. This “Let’s Play” method (Sapach, 2018) is the focus of my paper. The primary benefit of this method was that it allowed me to view my memories and experiences from a range of different perspectives; providing a balance between the “subjective”, individual process of remembering, the “objective”, scientific process of analyzing not only the words, but the physical and emotional reactions of the participant, and the often confusing awareness that I was recording the videos for my future self. Ultimately, my research has forced me to more deeply explore the temporal transformation of myself from isolated alienated ‘victim’ to empowered collective agent. My relations to myself, to others, and to the world around me have changed, and continue to change, as I continue to explore my data and experiences.   References: Jaeggi, Rahel. _Alienation: New Directions in Critical Theory_. Frederick Neuhouser and Alan E.                 Smith Trans. Frederick Neuhouser ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Sapach, Sonja. “Let’s Play with Research Methodologies.” _First Person Scholar_. Jan 3, 2018. Available                 online at: [1] Seeman, Melvin. “On the Meaning of Alienation.” _American Sociological Review_. 24.6 (1959): 783-791. Links: ------ [1]

Peter McMahan, McGill University

How talk reveals relational structures of power

This research investigates linguistic mimicry as an indicator of power relations among the primary decision-makers during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the United States. The work makes two primary sociological contributions. First, it formalizes a theory of social status as a fundamentally relational construct: social status is not determined by a persons position in a set hierarchy, but by the patterns of status relations experienced through interaction with others. Second, this research develops a statistical and computational methodology for measuring status relations through repeated conversational interactions. The model presented shows that asymmetries in stylistic mimicry constitute a reliable indicator of status relations between individuals. I apply this methodology to transcripts from the meetings of President Kennedys Executive Committee in 1962, demonstrating that patterns of linguistic deference and domination trace out the power structures among participants in the meetings. Moreover, I find that traditional measures of social class can be recovered from the measured status relations, and that class is more important than formal positional authority in determining the outcomes of the meetings. This work underscores the substantial benefits of a relational understanding of social structure while providing a flexible framework for its measurement.