Switchings Among Netdoms: The Relational Sociology of Harrison C. White

  • Jorge Fontdevila


Harrison C. White is a founding force behind the relational turn of American sociology and one of the most influential scholars in organizational, economic, and mathematical sociology. White builds a monumental theoretical model to answer the question of how social formations emerge. The model begins analytically with identities triggered by stochastic process at any scale—from individuals to empires. Once decoupled from their environments, identities seek footings vis-à-vis other identities in control efforts to reduce uncertainty and self-organize in disciplined molecules to accomplish vital tasks and secure perduration. Signaling and comparability among identities are key. Specialization ensues. Increased complexity triggers further control efforts and so identities polymerize ever more intricate social networks and phenomenological domains—netdoms—that merge in types of ties delivering stories and temporalities. Identities switch across these netdoms, seeking footing and changing contexts that spark new meanings. The entire process is scale-free and recursive. White recognizes that formal network analysis does not capture these switching contexts. So, to theorize social emergence and the production of phenomenological contexts—cast in framing stories and linguistic registers—White turns to language pragmatics and adopts Peirce’s semiotic model of indexical and reflexive language as the most rigorous approach to understand context and meaning production in social life. His goal is to incorporate social spread and scope into discourse and reflexive language.



The author would like to express his gratitude to Peter Bearman, François Dépelteau, and John Mohr for their helpful comments.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorge Fontdevila
    • 1
  1. 1.California State UniversityFullertonUSA

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