Relational Sociology: Transatlantic Impulses for the Social Sciences
International Symposium, Berlin, September 25/26, 2008
Over the past 20 years, Relational Sociology has become probably the most important and innovative research perspective in American sociology. In the social sciences in Germany, however, Relational Sociology is still little known and rarely applied. Few Relational Sociologists feature in academic references or in seminar reading lists.
In general, Relational Sociology aims at the theoretical modelling and empirical analysis of social networks as socio-cultural formations - network structure is conceived of as interwoven with cultural patterns. With this approach, Relational Sociology supersedes the pure structuralism prevalent in most network research. The central figure of Relational Sociology is Harrison White. White has shaped the work of many of the most important network researchers (from Mark Granovetter and Paul DiMaggio to Roger Gould and Ann Mische).
Coming from the structuralism of network analysis, Relational Sociologists began to model social structures as networks filled with meaning. White's Identity and Control (1992) triggered a chain of empirical studies, like Peter Bearman's Relations into Rhetorics, Roger Gould's Insurgent Identities, Charles Tilly's Contentious Politics in Great Britain, 1758-1834, and Ann Mische's Partisan Publics. Many of these today rank as milestones of Relational Sociology.
All of these works start from similar theoretical propositions:
The very identities of social entities (individuals or corporate actors like social movements or firms) come from the manyfold roles these entities occupy in their various networks. Accordingly, Relational Sociology focuses on the formation of meaning and identities in social networks.