Spontaneous order and relational sociology: from the Scottish Enlightenment to human figurations

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    103 Downloads (Pure)


    If viewed from a long-term and large-scale perspective, human interdependencies today can be seen as approaching species integration on a worldwide level. However, emergent worldwide processes of integration and differentiation tend to be reduced to static conceptthings such as “governmentality”, “globalization”, “cosmopolitanization”, “mobilities”, and
    “networks”, helping to obscure the mundane processes of institution formation, in particular the tenacious endurance of the nation-state. This paper argues that the pathological realism of neoliberal globalization today can be more adequately approached by engaging with the historical precursors of the so-called “relational turn” in contemporary sociology. The earlier relational sociology of the Scottish enlightenment, particularly Adam Ferguson (1767), Adam Smith (1776) and David Hume (1739) developed ideas of spontaneous order and such related concepts as “the invisible hand” and “unintended consequences” in an attempt to understand and control the rapid transformation of Scotland, a relatively under-developed economy on the edge of Europe. The Scottish spontaneous order tradition is compared to Elias’s idea of “figuration” as an unplanned but patterned process of increasingly complex and opaque social interdependencies and functional democratization. This process appears to have reached definite limits. Humanity is ensnared in a compelling global double-bind process of armed states that continue to threaten, endanger and fear each other, and a pervasive elite belief in the spontaneous efficiency and self-correcting mechanisms of the global “magic market”.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)14-36
    Number of pages23
    JournalRussian Sociological Review
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2017


    • Relational sociology
    • Spontaneous order
    • Human figurations
    • Norbert Elias
    • Scottish enlightenment
    • National habitus
    • Nominalization


    Dive into the research topics of 'Spontaneous order and relational sociology: from the Scottish Enlightenment to human figurations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this