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The Relational Gaze on a Changing Society

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Edited By Paolo Terenzi and Elisabetta Carrà

Relational sociology is coming increasingly to the fore on the international academic stage. As it invariably happens in such circumstances, when a new paradigm attracts a growing number of scholars, researchers and practitioners, it is almost inevitably interpreted and identified in many different ways. This book aims to highlight the specific nature of relational sociology, disseminates knowledge about the relational approach which has been developed in Italy and in Europe starting from the work of Pierpaolo Donati, and confronts this approach with issues which are currently much debated in social theory, social research and social work. The authors try to consolidate the directions taken in the research field in order to distinguish relational sociology from other approaches which are not relational, or are only so to a certain degree.

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The Sociological Gaze: When, How and Why Is It Relational?

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1 The thematizing of the human gaze

When we and others observe a painting, a sculpture, a view, the scene of an accident or a televised event, the object remains the same for everyone. In other words, everyone is observing the same reality; however, each of us describes it and sees it in a different way. Each of us perceives and focuses on different aspects of observed reality, depending on the individual sensitivity each of us possesses. This happens even when we are faced with numerical or other purely quantitative entities. Everyone “sees” the same numbers or quantities, but each “looks at” them in different ways.

For example, if we look at the figures for the increasing number of children born out of wedlock in various countries, the figures themselves are the same for all observers, but the way they are perceived will invariably differ. Everyone will see something different: some will see this phenomenon as a sign of a crisis of the family as an institution; others will see it as a sign of the greater freedom of parents, while some will perceive it as an indication of a changing civilisation, and so on and so forth. So why is it that each observer sees things differently, and offers different explanations and accounts for the very same observed things?

The easiest answer is that everything depends on the observer, that is, on the individual observer’s own way of being and of...

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