Kieran Healy, “Dealing with Awkward Relations.”

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Are we seeing a move in economic sociology from the idea of “embeddedness” to that of “relational work”? If so, is this a good idea? I argue that an economic sociology focused on relational work has the potential to open fresh ways of thinking about central questions in social theory in much the same way that Mark Granovetter’s seminal paper on embeddedness did more than twenty five years. But there are more and less interesting ways that this way of thinking might develop. The less interesting route is, unfortunately, the easiest one to take. For something more interesting to happen, we should avoid treating “relational work” as—variously—a rhetorical banner, a catch-all term, or a euphemism for a needlessly restricted sort of cultural sociology of economic life. To fulfil its potential, advocates of relational work should focus on strategic and conflictual elements that are present in the perspective but typically overlooked.

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