Critical strategies for implementing a relational sociological paradigm: Elias, Bourdieu, and uncivilized sociological theoretical struggles

Christopher Thorpe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Citation (Scopus)


Rejecting the premise that social entities possess any "fixed" or "essential" meaning, relational sociological modes of reasoning instead conceive of social phenomena as "inseparable from the transactional contexts within which they are embedded" (Emirbayer 1997, 287). First elaborated in the work of sociology's fourth-founding father, Georg Simmel, relational sociology has developed throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries most notably at the hands of Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu (Emirbayer 1997, Vandenberghe 1999). Following the development and application of relational concepts by these thinkers, as well as a bourgeoning cast of lesser but nonetheless influential scholars, relational sociology has carried forward into the twenty-first century a formidable array of thought tools capable of performing analytically sophisticated and penetrating readings of a range of contemporary global phenomena and processes. Indeed, as this collection of essays attests to, relational sociology stands at a critical juncture in its developmental trajectory and is now ready to instigate a move away from the peripheries to the center of the global sociological-theoretical field. Ostensibly, the greatest challenge faced by advocates of this shift derives from an outward-facing relationship: between the degree of fit—or "reality congruence" as Elias (1956) referred to it—of the theoretical concepts substantiating a relational paradigm and the empirical data—the social relations, processes, actors, and others—they are brought to bear upon. On this view, the task of establishing the legitimacy of relational sociology rests predominantly upon the methodological, conceptual, and analytical merits of its thought tools such that the "intrinsic strength"—to refer to the quotation by Bourdieu—of relational forms of reasoning demonstrate their superior heuristic capacities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConceptualizing relational sociology
Subtitle of host publicationontological and theoretical issues
EditorsChristopher Powell, François Dépelteau
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781137342652
ISBN (Print)9781137379900, 9781349479023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


Cite this

Thorpe, C. (2013). Critical strategies for implementing a relational sociological paradigm: Elias, Bourdieu, and uncivilized sociological theoretical struggles. In C. Powell, & F. Dépelteau (Eds.), Conceptualizing relational sociology: ontological and theoretical issues (1 ed., pp. 105-122). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.