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36. Relationality

Crocheted blanket

Relationality is a new way of thinking about how we are related to others.

Relationality – the state of being relational or connected. This has been applied in innovative ways by Morgan Centre academics within Sociology at Manchester committed to empirical research on interpersonal life. The Centre has mapped changes (since the mid-twentieth century) in relating.

In Family Practices (1996), David Morgan challenges the notion of family as an institution (of socialisation), arguing that familial/kin relationships are constructions resulting from dynamic practices that re-affirm, negotiate and reconstruct family life. In Passing On: Kinship and Inheritance in England (2000), Janet Finch and Jennifer Mason use data on families’ handling of inheritance to debate with Macfarlane’s ideas on English individualism, and Strathern’s ideas on the ‘individuality of persons’. They conclude that kinship can only be understood as relational.

Brian Heaphy, Carol Smart and Anna Einarsdottir have addressed kinship in lesbian/gay marriage (2013). Carol Smart uses relationality to stress the importance of webs of connectedness between people, the extent to which we are truly social and how sense of self is constructed in continuous negotiation with others – ‘real’ and imaginary.  This thinking is combined with feminist philosophy and used in Personal Life (Smart 2007) to challenge masculinist theories of individualisation of Beck and Giddens. In Acquaintances, David Morgan (2009) examines the relational space between kin and strangers based on slighter knowledge of the other. These complex, liminal relations, including online ones, represent sources of ontological in/security. Deploying the symbolic interactionism/pragmatist philosophy of Mead and Cooley as well as the urban sociology of Simmel and Elias, Vanessa May’s Connecting Self to Society (2013) illustrates how self and social relations are mutually constitutive. In these ways, the Morgan Centre has highlighted the value of meso-level analysis of relating that blurs the individual/society distinction.


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