March 7, 2011
Methodological relationalism – Goffman, Collins
Last week- to understand social reality we should start with interaction patterns: social phenomenon
defined by physical presence of co-actors. This perspective argues we have no grasp of macro structures
apart from their foundations in micro processes which are interactions
Collins and interactional chains- comes close to social relations notions
- Further theoretical background
- Elementary introduction to network analysis
- Focus on one problem of network analysis given by Granovetter and weak ties
- Are claims of methodological relationalists true?
Theoretical considerations concerning perspective of sociology
- Heritage on which authors build are Simmel, Mead, and Norbert Elias (instead of focusing on
structures, we should look at figurations in which persons are embedded- figurational sociology)
- Contemporary proponents – Granovetter- tries to develop underlying arguments
- Granovetter says much of sociological theory has an atomized perspective of the individual
which we should go beyond. He makes this argument against 2 different traditions
(functionalist: Parsons) and with tradition of (rational choice or utilitarianism) – Why do these 2
theories have an atomized perspective of the individual?
o Functionalism: there is the argument that the individual is acting on the premise of
internalized norms. So in the process of action, the individual acts as an atomized
individual while bringing with him internalized norms embedded in cultural society
o Rational choice theorists assume individual acts out of self-interest (utilitarianism) –
individual conceived in atomized way
o Functionalism and rational choice have in one case over-socialized and under-socialized
resolution of order (so in one tradition individual is too impregnated by social norms of
society and in the other it is not embedded in any social norms)
- Granovetter says we should see the individual as embedded in ongoing situations. So instead of
being an actor acting out of self-interest, we should see the individual as part of ongoing social
transactions or relations. This concept of embeddedness has a number of consequences for
various fields of research. He is interested in analysis of economic phenomena where he argues
we should focus on social embeddedness in which market participant’s act.
- The market participants are always embedded in social relations which require trust and provide
information (always part of the calculation of actors). This distinguishes embeddedness from functionalism. Embedded participants may result in conflict too, so social embeddedness
(Relational perspective too) says individual not as part of social system of norms as guiding for
Parsons theory but it is part of ongoing process of transactions that generate trust, provide
information, produce conflict etc.
- Anti-categorical imperative – means social theorists and empirical researchers should not focus
on category of actors or attributes but rather relations between actors. For instance instead of
dividing population according to categories (man and woman) we should not assume these
categories to be existent but rather the outcome of relational phenomena we should observe
instead. This imperative goes hand in hand with the idea to not focus on variables that explain
social outcomes but to focus on relations and processes of transaction. Another author related
to this school of relational theorizing is Andrew Abbott who has published many critical articles
against variable theory.
- Collins said causality need to reside in an acting individual, in actions or interactions of various
individuals who produce through their action various outcomes. In other words variables cannot
cause anything but interactions have causal power!
- This is to some extent a similar point made by mechanistic proponents (Hedstrom critical of
variable sociology) the difference in the relational perspective is that causality is not so much in
individual but rather in the relations!
- So what kind of information do we need to make arguments that not follow line of variable
sociology and respect anti-categorical imperative. Relational data is most often used.
Background information on Network Analysis
- Closely related to theoretical line of relational thinking
- Brings problem forward of ambiguity in relational perspective in making more radical
statements that relations focus instead of individual and less radical where relations part of
model referring to individuals too
- Developments that took place in 40s and 50 in sociology, anthropology, biology etc. when
scholars interested in developing information via social matrices
- Since 1970s we have more formal theories of network analysis + new mathematical models,
new computer programs etc.
- Today network analysis is an alternative methodology used in sociology- alternative to classical
- Important to grasp the character of network data- different from variable data. Variable data-
individuals sharing attributes
- Network data – two forms of information and analysis:
Graphs (analyzed using mathematical graph theory) and Matrix
- Relations represented via lines connected with nodes – triadic relation Properties of Relations
- Focus on form of relations: meaning relations can be symmetric or asymmetric – undirected or
o Undirected: ex. Time spent together by 2 actors
o Asymmetric: one way arrow or symmetric
- Multi-plexity or uniplexity- how much time do you spend together as friends and at work
(friendship networks and work networks) – both present between 2 participants
- Weak or strong relations- how much time do y