The American Sociologist

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 64–79 | Cite as

Relations and Relationships: Clarifying the Terms of the ‘New’ Relational Economic Sociology

  • Dustin S. StoltzEmail author


In economic sociology, relations and relationships have emerged as central yet poorly specified concepts. In this paper, I clarify these terms in a positive critique of the current state of the field. I then consider the ways in which the proposed framework can help analysts to bridge the divide between economics and sociology. Armed with techniques derived from formal network analysis, the new economic sociology offered the first sustained foray into economic territory, but sociological skeptics remain unsatisfied. Two broad rejoinders to this network-analytic approach emerged in the last two decades, but both correctives, nevertheless, leave the divide intact. In the last decade, however, a new paradigm is coalescing under the rubric of “relational economic sociology. While showing promise, it furthers the confusion surrounding the key concepts of “relations” and “relationships.” The proposed framework provides a foundation for constructive dialogue among the different traditions which constitute this new paradigm.


Economic sociology Relational sociology Economics Relations Relationships 



An early version of this paper was presented during the fall of 2015 at The Culture Workshop of the University of Notre Dame, and I would like to thank all participants for their time and insight. I am also very grateful for the many discussions with Omar Lizardo about all things theory, with Lyn Spillman and Aaron Pitluck about economic sociology, and with David Gibson about social networks.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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