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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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Discovering the Relational Relevance of Reciprocity

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What is reciprocity? This question should precede any investigation of social relations. Although a broad spectrum of research in the social sciences includes some reflection on reciprocity, more or less accurately noting the fundamental importance of this phenomenon for social life, until recently reciprocity has rarely drawn attention as a key theoretical concept. It is worth noting, however, that social exchange theory and game theory have openly admitted its importance (Diekmann 2004, Molm 2007).

Actually, there is no agreement on how to understand reciprocity in relation to phenomena as diverse as: the social practices of reciprocating described by anthropologists and ethnographers, reciprocity as a trait of the human psyche, reciprocity as a feature of social transactions or exchange, reciprocity in the functioning of role systems, reciprocity as a general moral norm, or reciprocity as constitutive for social capital. This is only a tentative enumeration of topics where reciprocity comes into play. Some variations in the understanding of reciprocity will be discussed here, with special emphasis on the major role of this concept in the original relational sociology (Donati 2018), which comes to the fore among other approaches claiming to be relational, and reinvigorates social sciences and humanities in general (Dépelteau 2018: 27).

In contemporary social sciences, the issue of reciprocity is rooted in centuries-old reflection on moral conduct, as exemplified by Marcus Tullius Cicero’s oft-cited maxim “Hæc est enim una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum omnium reliquarum”, meaning that...

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