Pierpaolo Donati (
School of Political Sciences, University of Bologna, Italy

Citation: Donati P. (2017) An Outline of Relational Sociology from a Critical, Analytical and Realist Viewpoint. Zhurnal sotsiologii i sotsialnoy antropologii [The Journal of Sociology and Social Anthropology], 20(1): 5–21.

Abstract. In this paper, the author presents his original version of relational sociology (critical realist relational sociology-CRRS), which is also called ‘relational theory of society’. It shares with other versions of relational sociology the aim to understand social facts as relationally constituted entities stemming from the dialectic between structures and interactive processes. But it diff ers from the radically constructivist and relativistic versions (here referred to as ‘relationist sociologies’) as regards the way in which social relations are defined, the kind of reality that is attributed to them, how they configure social formations, and the ways in which they are generated (emergence) and changed (morphogenesis). The paper clarifies the advantages that this original perspective offers in explaining a series of social issues. In particular, it can orient social research toward unseen and/or immaterial realities. Empirically, it can show how new social forms are created, changed, or destroyed depending on different processes of valorization or devalorization of social relations. Ultimately, the task of this approach is to point to the possibility of envisaging those social relations that can better realize the humanity of social agents and give them the opportunity to achieve a good life.

Keywords: relational sociology, relational social theory, emergentism, relational goods, humanistic sociology


Archer M.S. (1995) Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Archer M.S. (2013) (ed.) Social Morphogenesis. Dordrecht: Springer

Bagaoui R. (2007) Un paradigme systémique relationnel est-il possible? Proposition d’une typologie relationnelle [Is a relational systemic paradigm possible? Proposition of a relational typology]. Nouvelles perspectives en sciences sociales: revue internationale de systémique complexe et d’études relationnelles, 3(1): 151-175 (in French)

Carlsson L., Sandström A. (2008) Network governance of the commons. International Journal of the Commons, 2(1): 33-54

Cook W., Dreyer A. (1984) The Social Relations Models. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 46(3): 679-687

Crossley N. (2011) Towards Relational Sociology. London: Routledge

Dépelteau F., Powell C. (eds.) (2013) Applying Relational Sociology. Relations, Networks, and Society. New York: Palgrave

Donati P. (1983) Introduzione alla sociologia relazionale [Introduction to Relational Sociology]. Milano: FrancoAngeli (in Italian)

Donati P. (1991) Teoria relazionale della società [Relational Theory of Society]. Milano: FrancoAngeli (in Italian)

Donati P. (2006) L’analisi relazionale: regole, quadro metodologico, esempi [Relational analysis: rules, methodological framework, examples]. In: Sociologia. Una introduzione allo studio della società [Sociology. An introduction to the study of society], P. Donati (ed.). Padova: Cedam: 195-251 (in Italian)

Donati P. (2008) The Emergent Third Sector in Europe: Actors, Relations and Social Capital. In: The Social Generative Action of the Third Sector. Comparing International Experiences. H. K. Anheier, G. Rossi, L. Boccacin (eds.). Milan: Vita e Pensiero: 13-47

Donati P. (2011) Relational Sociology. A New Paradigm for the Social Sciences. London and New York: Routledge

Donati P. (2015a) L’enigma della relazione [The Enigma of the Relation]. Milano-Udine: Mimesis (in Italian)

Donati P. (2015b) Manifesto for a critical realist relational sociology. International Review of Sociology/Revue Internationale de Sociologie, 25(1): 86-109

Donati P. (2015c) Social Mechanisms and Their Feedbacks: Mechanical vs Relational Emergence of New Social Formations. In: Generative Mechanisms Transforming the Social Order. M.S. Archer (ed.). Dordrecht: Springer: 65-92

Donati P. (2017) What Does a ‘Good Life’ Mean in a Morphogenic Society? The Viewpoint of Relational Sociology. In: Social Morphogenesis and Human Flourishing, M.S. Archer (ed.). Dordrecht: Springer: 23-40

Donati P., Archer M.S. (2015) The Relational Subject. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Donati P., Martignani L. (eds.) (2015) Towards a New Local Welfare. Best Practices and Networks of Social Inclusion. Bologna: Bononia University Press

Donati P., Solci R. (2011) I beni relazionali. Che cosa sono e quali effetti producono [Relational goods. What are they and what they produce]. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri (in Italian)

Emirbayer M. (1997) Manifesto for a relational sociology. American Journal of Sociology, 103(2): 281-317

Fiske A.P. (1992) The Four Elementary Forms of Sociality: Framework for a Unified Theory of Social Relations. Psychological Review, 99: 689-723

Fiske A.P. (1993) Social Errors in Four Cultures: Evidence about Universal Forms of Social Relations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24: 463-494

Folgheraiter F. (2004) Relational Social Work. Toward Networking and Societal Practices. London: J. Kingsley

Haslam N., Fiske A.P. (1999) Relational models theory: A confirmatory factor analysis. Personal Relationships, 6: 241-250

LSR (2016) Lessico della sociologia relazionale [Lexicon of relational sociology]. P. Terenzi, L. Boccacin and R. Prandini (eds.). Bologna: il Mulino (in Italian)

Luhmann N. (1995) Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Marshall T. H. (1950) Citizenship and Social Class. Cambridge: CUP

Morandi E. (2010) Introductory Outlines to Pierpaolo Donati’s Relational sociology. Part 1. Journal of Critical Realism, 9(2): 208-226

Morandi E. (2011) Introductory Outlines to Pierpaolo Donati’s Relational sociology. Part 2. Journal of Critical Realism, 10(1): 100-121

Tam T. (1989) Demarcating the Boundaries Between Self and the Social: The Anatomy of Centrality in Social Networks. Social Networks, 11(4): 387-401

Titmuss R. (1974) Social Policy: An Introduction. London: Allen & Unwin

Tronca L. (2013) Sociologia relazionale e social network analysis. Analisi delle strutture sociali [Relational sociology and social network analysis. Analysis of social structures]. Milan: FrancoAngeli (in Italian)

Uhlaner C. J. (1989) Relational goods and participation. Incorporating sociability into a theory of rational action. Public Choice, 62: 253-285

Vandenberghe F. (1999) «The Real is Relational»: An Epistemological Analysis of Pierre Bourdieu’s Generative Structuralism. Sociological Theory, 17(1): 32-67

Weaver B. (2012) The Relational Context of Desistance: Some Implications and Opportunities for Social Policy. Social Policy & Administration, 46(4): 395-412

Weaver B., McNeill F. (2015) Lifelines: Desistance, Social Relations, and Reciprocity. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 42(1): 95-107

White H. C. (2008) Identity and Control. Princeton: Princeton University Press