Mapping the Limits of Relational Sociology. an Ontological Approach.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Peter LENCO, Aion Research Insight, Canada
Although relational sociology as a distinct approach is becoming more of a household name in academia, it remains indistinct because its theoretical net is cast rather broadly. This is nowhere more so the case than at the very heart of its theory when we think of precisely what a relation is in the first place. The spectrum runs between relations basically as any sort of connection between units on the one side, to the units themselves being the product of ephemeral relations on the other; and there may be other axes besides. This paper argues that this is a stumbling block for relational sociology, for at present we have ontologically incompatible approaches under the same rubric. Thus it seems urgent that we sort out these divides. The paper proposes to do just that by using process philosophy (Whitehead and Deleuze) to compare the more humanist approach of Archer and Donati with the so-called transactional approach of Emirbayer. It argues that the transnactional approach is more ontologically robust, but that at the same time it need not totally reject the notion of actors and can even accommodate (with caveats) a humanist agenda. Furthermore, we need not break up the relational sociology fold, so long as we are clear as to what precisely is on offer among its various voices. The paper argues that this should be done on ontological grounds.