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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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Interaction, Transaction and Relation. Ideas for a Closer Comparison of Emirbayer and Donati’s Relational Outlooks

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1 The on-going debate

The differences between Donati’s relational approach and the one proposed by Emirbayer in the Manifesto have been analysed by Luca Martignani and by Pierpaolo Donati himself.

Martignani, after having presented the basic features of Emirbayer’s theoretical approach both before and after the publication of the Manifesto, goes on to compare this with Donati’s relational sociology, whereupon he states that “the principal differences” (Martignani 2014: 110) between the two lie:

“in the epistemological attitude to relations” (Martignani 2014: 110), which Donati sees not only as a concept but also as a category, “as substance prior to the social” (Martignani 2014: 110). In examining this point in greater detail, Martignani quotes Donati himself, who in a work published in 2013 had distanced himself from Emirbayer’s “transactional” sociology by pointing out the latter’s two principal defects: firstly, its inability to perceive the existence of a sui generis reality of social relations, given that it sees them as mere exchanges between individuals (transactions, in fact); and secondly, its being guilty of what Margaret Archer has termed “central conflation,” that is, the failure to distinguish between the role of structures and that of actions, since it argues that structures are made up of individuals’ actions, and vice-versa.

“at the ontological level” (Martignani 2014: 110). While Donati’s approach is based on Bhaskar’s critical realism, that of Emirbayer falls within the pragmatic category, whereby, as Martignani notes, “whatever offers a version of truth...

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