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Figurational Sociology

Following the work of Norbert Elias (1897-1990) figurational sociology offers a radical way of seeing the social world.Elias’s work is the synthesis of elements from Comte,Durkheim,Marx, Simmel,Weber and Freud. Figurational sociology studies how people cope with the problems of interdependence and rests on several interrelated premises ; that human beings are interdependent; that their lives develop in the figurations that they form with each other .

These figurations are continually in flux undergoing changes of different orders ,some quick and superficial ,others slower and the long term developments taking place in figurations have been and continue to be largely unplanned and unforeseen.The concept of figuration is used to refer to the webs of interdependence that link individuals and both constrain and enable their actions.Though produced and reproduced by acting individuals the long term structure and dynamics of figurations cannot be explained solely in terms of the properties of individuals. This approach is intended to overcome the dichotomies that characterize sociological research including individual /society, agency/structure, freedom/determinism, micro/macro and synchronic/diachronic.

In order to understand the scale and scope of the interconnections that constitute figurations one must abandon thinking and language rooted in homo clausus ( individual closed off or separate from society) and instead view people as homines aperti ( open human beings) living in interdependence with others.Functionalist models that isolate individuals from society and reduce processes to mono-causal ,static and non relational variables are replaced by an emphasis on probing the emergent and contingent ,yet structured and patterned ,nature of social relations.

Figurational sociology offers a non relativist theory of science that raises issues of involvement and detachment in the production of reality  congruent knowledge and theory of power that focuses on the relations between established and outsider groups at local,national and global levels of interdependence. Four key concepts in human interdependence 

Functional democratization ( the process neither planned or intended whereby power ratios among people become relatively equal)

Monopoly mechanism ( the structured processes of increasing concentration of power ,accompanying social differentiation and integration) 

And the concepts of diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties ( the non dichotomous tendencies towards homogeneity and heterogeneity.

Figurational sociological research has explored topics as the embodied emotions ,sports and gender relations,globalization ,civilizing /decivilizing processes etc.It provides theoretical and methodological approach offering a potential reorientation and insights into human condition.

Reference: Elias,N ( 2000) The Civilizing Process,rev.edn. Blackwell,Oxford 

 

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