Pragmatic Analytics: An Introduction to Relational Social Science
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University
The purpose of this course is to introduce you to a distinctive style of “thinking politics”:
processual rather than substantialist, relational rather than essentialist, configurational rather than
case-comparative. Relational analytics have their philosophical roots in pragmatism and parallels with
some currents in post-structuralism, and have traditionally been more in evidence in sociology
(particularly historical sociology) than in political science and international studies, but the problems
of various attempts to explain political outcomes by correlating attributes of units over time and
across space have led some scholars to the conclusion that the best solution might be a
comprehensive ontological re-visioning of the subject-matter at hand. Instead of looking for
essential properties of political actors or universally reliable indicators of future outcomes, a
relational sensibility highlights process, emergence, and the myriad ways that concrete social
interaction and transaction brings about contingent arrangements of meaningful practice. Primarily
a theoretical move, but with some methodological affinities, a relational turn points toward a way to
ground social-scientific scholarship in everyday social practices without sacrificing causal explanation
or theoretical generality.
In this whirlwind tour of relational thinking, after looking at some of the philosophical and
conceptual origins of relationalism, we will focus on three “flavors” of relationalism in the social
sciences: the network analysis of social positions, the distinctive style of discourse analysis best
characterized as the examination of “words in their speaking,” and practice theory. We conclude the
week with an examination of what it means to engage in a configurational analysis, as distinct from
the other kinds of (broadly neopositivist) causal analysis on offer in the social sciences.
That having been said, this is neither a technical “research design” nor a “proposal writing” class,
but is pitched as a somewhat broader level of theoretical abstraction; it is more ontological and
conceptual than it is technically operational. As we proceed through the course, however, you should
try not to lose sight of the fact that the point of theoretical reflection is to inform practical research.
Treat this course as an opportunity to set aside some time to think critically, creatively, and
expansively about the consequences of fundamental relationality for your own research.
Throughout the course we will make reference to exemplary work from Anthropology, Economics,
Sociology, and Political Science; students will be encouraged to draw on their own disciplines as well as these others in producing their reflections and participating in our lively discussions. Assigned
readings are drawn primarily from International Studies and from Sociology, and lectures will seek to
illuminate the contexts of these works; seminar discussions will focus on elucidating the arguments
of these texts and their implications for various modes of social-scientific research; workshop
activities will focus on encouraging students to connect the theoretical issues to questions and
concerns in their home fields and disciplines, and to their own research projects and interests.
This course runs January 22-26, 2018.
TEACHING FELLOW: Gabriela Rosa, University of São Paulo
Lecture 1: From entities to processes
Seminar 1: A relational vocabulary
Lecture 2: Positions: social networks
Seminar 2: Ties instead of attributes
Lecture 3: Transactions: relational discourse analysis
Seminar 3: “Words in their speaking”
Lecture 4: Practices: competent performances
Seminar 4: Rules and rule-following
Lecture 5: Configurations
Seminar 5: Explanation without generalization