Theorizing social networks: relational sociology

This paper offers an overview of relational sociology as developed by and around Harrison White. Relational sociology provides a substantial account of social networks, conceptualizing them as real social structures interwoven with meaning. Forms of meaning connected to network configurations (as part of their ‘domains’) include stories, identities, social categories (including role categories), and institutions. Recent advances lead to a network perspective on culture, and to an emphasis on communicative events in networks. In contrast to other strands of relational sociology, the approach aims at a close connection between empirical research and theoretical reflection. Theoretical concepts and arguments are geared at empirical applicability in network research, rather than mainly providing a theoretical description of the social world. Finally, the author’s own version of relational sociology is sketched: social networks are seen as dynamic constructions of relational expectations. These emerge and develop over the course of communication (in the sense of Niklas Luhmann), in turn effectively channeling communicative sequence.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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