Donati Pierpaolo

The enigma of the social relationship: prolegomena to a realist relational sociology

Donati Pierpaolo (2018) "The enigma of the social relationship: prolegomena to a realist relational sociology ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia I : Bogoslovie. Filosofiia. Religiovedenie, 2018, vol. 75, pp. 81-101 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturI201875.81-101


This paper gives an outline of relational sociology, which understands and explains society and human existence as “relationally constituted”, i.e. as constituted by social relations. Modern and postmodern sociological mainstreams see relations as an emanation of the individual, whereas in reality individual’s identity depends on relations. The fallacy of individualism is due to the fact that current social theories avoid addressing what the author calls “the enigma of the relationship”, i.e. an order of reality able to unite the diff erent ones while preserving, and even promoting, their differences. This new approach understands relations as a sui generis reality that cannot be reduced to the terms of the relations, their qualities and properties, because the relation is “emergent”. Thus, it overcomes the fallacies of subjectivism and objectivism in understanding the nature of social reality and can make visible the enigma of its relational constitution. This approach stems from a new social (relational) ontology, according to which substance and relation are co-principles of being. Such an ontology, in turn, needs to refer to a specifi c “theological matrix”, since every society depends on a kind of “symbolic code” that determines the uniqueness of its structures and sociocultural dynamics. Symbolic codes always have religious origins where “religion” broadly means the ultimate latent values of society. Within the framework of Western thinking, three symbolic codes or theological matrices can be observed, depending on how the diff erence between the Self and the Other is interpreted, namely dialectical, binary and relational. Within the dialectical symbolic code, the distinction between the Self and the Other is understood as a point of constant confl ict, discussion and negotiation: the theory of J. Habermas serves as a good example of this code. The binary matrix, presented by N. Luhmann, understands the diff erence between the Self and the Other as an insurmountable separation. Within the relational code, this difference (indeed any difference) is considered to be a social relation, i.e. a true interchange between the terms generating “emergent” eff ect. The relational matrix goes back to Christianity and its theological Trinitarian matrix.


social relation, relational sociology, realist social ontology, the Self and the Other, difference, theological matrix, Trinity, post-modern society


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Information about the author

Donati Pierpaolo

Academic Degree: Alma Mater Professor;
Academic Rank: Professor;
Place of work: University of Bologna; 33 Via Zamboni, Bologna 40126, Italy;
ORCID: 0000-0002-9794-132X;
Email: socrel.pstgu@gmail.com.