Social relation

A social relation is the fundamental unit of analysis within the social sciences, and describes any voluntary or involuntary interpersonal relationship between two or more individuals within and/or between groups. The group can be a language or kinship group, a social institution or organization, an economic class, a nation, or gender. Social relations are derived from human behavioral ecology,[1][2] and, as an aggregate, form a coherent social structure whose constituent parts are best understood relative to each other and to the social ecosystem as a coherent whole.[3]

Early inquiries into the nature of social relations feature in the work of sociologists such as Max Weber in his theory of social action, where social relationships composed of both positive (affiliative) and negative (agonistic) interactions represented opposing effects.[4] Categorizing social interactions enables observational and other social research, such as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (lit. 'community and society'), collective consciousness, etc.

Forms of relation and interactionEdit

According to Piotr Sztompka, forms of relation and interaction in sociology and anthropology may be described as follows: first and most basic are animal-like behaviors, i.e. various physical movements of the body. Then there are actions—movements with a meaning and purpose. Then there are social behaviors, or social actions, which address (directly or indirectly) other people, which solicit a response from another agent.

Next are social contacts, a pair of social actions, which form the beginning of social interactions. Symbols define social relationships. Without symbols, our social life would be no more sophisticated than that of animals. For example, without symbols people would have no aunts or uncles, employers or teachers-or even brothers and sisters. In sum, symbolic integrations analyze how social life depends on the ways people define themselves and others. They study face-to-face interaction, examining how people make sense out of life, how they determine their relationships.

Sociological hierarchy[5]
Physical movement Meaning Directed towards others Await response Unique/rare interaction Interactions Accidental, not planned, but repeated interaction Regular Interactions described by law, custom, or tradition A scheme of social interactions
Behavior Yes
Action Yes Maybe
Social behavior Yes No Yes
Social action No Yes Yes No
Social contact Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Social interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Repeated interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Regular interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Regulated interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Social relation Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No

See alsoEdit

Related disciplinesEdit


  1. ^ van Schaik CP. 1989. The ecology of social relationships amongst female primates. In Comparative socioecology: the behavioural ecology of humans and other mammals (eds Standen V, Foley R), pp. 195–218. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Scientific.
  2. ^ Hinde, R. A. "Interactions, Relationships and Social Structure." Man, vol. 11, no. 1, 1976, pp. 1–17. JSTOR
  3. ^ Zahle, Julie, "Methodological Holism in the Social Sciences", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
  4. ^ Wey, Tina W.; Jordán, Ferenc; Blumstein, Daniel T. (2019). "Transitivity and structural balance in marmot social networks". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 73 (6). doi:10.1007/s00265-019-2699-3. S2CID 169035896.
  5. ^ Sztompka, Piotr. 2002. Socjologia, Znak. ISBN 83-240-0218-9. p. 107.