Toward an Interactionist Sociology of Ethnic Relations1

By Mucha, Janusz | Polish Sociological Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Toward an Interactionist Sociology of Ethnic Relations1


Mucha, Janusz, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: This text has three parts. In the first, I discuss the presence and absence of the concept of "social relations" in social sciences and focus on "ethnic relations. " Then, I analyse the ways in which the theoretical problems of ethnic relations are conceptualized in sociology. Finally, I offer my own suggestions. Why is it worth dealing with concepts of interactions and social relations at all, especially with respect to macrosocial phenomena (such as "ethnic issues")? First, it seems to me that these are some of sociology's most basic concepts. Second, the relational and interactionist current in contemporary sociology offers some important inspirations relating to the analysis of macrocultural phenomena. I suggest to follow Randall Collins' ideas and seek the "microfoundations" of macrosocial phenomena in the chains of interaction rituals present at the foundation of society as such. I intend to avoid such a sociological approach to ethnicity which calls all ethnic phenomena "ethnic relations" but in fact deals mainly with individual groups, types of structured ethnic order or attitudes. Actually, ethnic order rests on the interactionist understanding of the social relations between ethnic actors. It is these relations which dynamize social order.

Keywords: basic concepts of sociology, interactions, social relations, ethnic relations, relationism, individualism.

This text has three parts. In the first part I discuss the presence and absence of the "social relations" concept in sociology and focus on "ethnic relations." In the second part I demonstrate the ways in which the theoretical problems of ethnic relations are conceptualized in sociology. Finally, in the third part I offer several suggestions of my own.

Why is it worth dealing with concepts of interactions and social relations at all, especially with respect to macrosocial phenomena (such as "ethnic issues")? First, it seems to me that these are some of sociology's most basic concepts. Second, the relational and interactionist current in contemporary sociology offers some important inspirations relating to the analysis of macrocultural phenomena.

I would like to follow Randall Collins' suggestions, generally and "formally," and seek the "microfoundations" of macrosocial phenomena in the chains of interaction rituals which lie at the foundation of the organization of society as such (Collins 1981). I would also like to avoid such a sociological approach to ethnicity which calls all ethnic phenomena "ethnic relations" (or "racial relations") but in fact deals mainly with distinct groups, types of structured ethnic order or attitudes. Actually, ethnic order rests on the interactionist understanding of the social relations between ethnic actors. It is these relations which dynamize social order.

Presence and Absence of the "Social Relations" Concept in the Social Sciences2

This text is about "ethnic relations." The first part is more concerned with "relations" than "ethnicity" (or "race"), however. "Social relations" are my basic concept. Although this concept is mainly used in analytic sociology to study selected (largely long-term, regular and normalized) interactions between individuals and between social roles, I am equally interested in the macrosocial approach, i.e. in social (mainly ethnic) relations between very large groups and their sociological conceptualizations. The term "social relation" is used in many areas of everyday life and is variously understood. This text is about sociology, however.

According to one popular definition sociology is the science of "social relations." Prominent representatives of the discipline also use this definition. Social relations are often presented after Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess (1970), and also after Florian Znaniecki (1963, 1965, 1967, 1973, 1988) as a very important analytic category, a significant element of social bonds, the consequence of spatial and psychological contact, as well as mutual interactions. …

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