Relational Turn in the Social Sciences: Causes and Consequences

15 October 2019

The social sciences are supposed to be about studying social relations and how these relations make up us as beings in the world – and not just as beings who view the world. Yet for the most part the science part of the social sciences has been equated with scientific methods and their underlying theories that presume social world to be more or less akin to the natural world: having entities in place and relations to be added to them as some sort of embellishments rather than as part of their very constitution. Relational social science is presuming the primacy of relations in making sense of whatever being in the world. To be is to relate. One cannot grasp the social world without considering the relations at its ground. This might sound elementary, but the four presentations consider various ways this truism has been forgotten for generations by social scientific mainstream and how it is making its come back in the contemporary scene of social research.

Place: Porthan Hall, Maaherran makasiini (Henrikinkatu 10)


Lines of life: how things become and endure
Olli Pyyhtinen, University of Tampere

To make sense of on-going social processes and our contemporary world we need a relational mode of thought. We cannot grasp the nature of platformed sociality, for example, or the unforeseen scale of even our most mundane actions with the help of traditional reifying sociological notions. In a world of structures, components, building blocks, and blobs there simply is no life. We exist only in constellations of lines and are ourselves traversed by multiple lines leading to and fro, which situate us, name us, define us, put us into motion, and make us live. In the talk I consider relationalism in terms of lines of life and suggest that relationalism does not simply mean embracing becoming, fluency, and variation at the expense of being, stability, and permanence, but by means of relations we are able to attend to both fluidity and stability.

From “variables” to “relations”: on how “deep relational” thinking differs from the normal social sciences
Peeter Selg, Tallinn University, Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS)

The presentation outlines two major understandings of social research. First, the variable-centred approach that – either through quantitative or qualitative methods – studies the (causal) inter-actions and mechanisms of the social world. Second, the “deep relational” approach that studies the (constitutive) trans-actions and mechanisms of the social world. By bringing out this distinction between causal inter-actions and constitutive trans-actions (and their interconnection) and articulating the methodological consequences of the respective form of theorizing/explanation it is clarified in a concise vocabulary the core of deep relational approach and its difference from the variable-centered mainstream in the social sciences.

13.00–14.00 Lunch (self-paid)

A Few Good Relationalisms in Sociology – and a Case for Non-ontological Methodological Relationalism
Tero Piiroinen, University of Turku

This paper offers, first, an overall view of relational sociology as a relatively recent social movement that involves a sizeable cluster of old as well as new ideas, veins of thought, and points of view, which taken together share only some family resemblance. Second, the paper looks more closely into and advances an argument for one specific kind of relational sociology – a sort of methodological relationalism, which is intent on avoiding all sorts of metaphysical and ontological convictions, relational or otherwise. This methodological relationalism is then compared and contrasted with certain alternative, ontologically committed, forms of relationalism

The 3 Rs of Social Structure: A Relational Rejoinder to Structuration Theory
Nick Crossley, University of Manchester

In this paper I offer a relational rejoinder to debates on structuration. Giddens’ structuration theory defines ‘structure’ in terms of ‘rules and resources’ which enable action. Actors draw upon and thereby reproduce these rules and resources in their actions. Structure is first internalised by the actor, by way of socialisation in childhood, and then externalised and thereby perpetuated. This is a persuasive idea but it ignores an important aspect of social structure: relations. I bring relations back in, arguing that they form an essential aspect of social structure and considering how they figure within processes of structuration. In doing so I engage in particular with the ideas of Peter Blau and G.H Mead.

17.00 Reception and drinks

Please register by 11 October 2019:

Organiser: Peeter Selg,