Social sciences pride themselves on investigating relations of different kinds and scales, across time and space. Among them, diplomatic studies lay claim to the development of relations between polities, despite their differences over values, identities and interests. In many areas of knowledge, there is much talk about a relational revolution. However, a shared confidence in a relational view of the world hides profound differences in both the meaning and empirical significance of relations. It is argued that a study of the meaning of social relations stands as a prerequisite for two interrelated, interdependent theoretical processes. First, given the proximity of relation with certain developments in network and field theory, we need to specify what is it that relations add to our understanding of social activities. Second, there is a tendency to assume that the meaning of relation is exhausted by the theoretical framework within which it is embedded. But in doing so, the essence of relations dissolves into each distinct theoretical elaboration about them. The talk examines these issues and proposes how they can be overcome. It points out what our understanding of being in relation implies for how we conceive of social inquiry.
Thierry Balzacq is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po and Professorial Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po, Paris. He is the director of graduate studies for international relations at the School of Research at the same university. A former Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University (2017-2018), Balzacq was awarded a Francqui Research Chair (Belgium’s highest academic title) at the University of Namur and elected Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), in 2016. His most recent books include The Oxford Handbook of Grand Strategy (2021 co-ed., with Ron Krebs); Comparative Grand Strategy: A Framework and Cases (Oxford University Press, 2019 – co-ed. with Peter Dombrowski and Simon Reich) which was n°2 in the Annual reading list of the journal International Affairs in 2020, Théories de la sécurité (Presses de Sciences Po, 2016), The Routledge Handbook of Security Studies (2016, co-ed with M. Dunn Cavelty).