Relationism belongs to us all. It starts, not with market forces or social classes, but by pointing to the fundamental role of relationships in helping individuals, and societies, flourish.  

Relationships are the mechanism through which all social goods are realized (including productivity, efficiency, education, justice and sustainability).  They are also a good in their own right. When we talk about support networks, families, friendships, communities and nations, we are talking about relationships. 

Consequently, society derives huge benefit from its stakeholder groups relating well – that is, with stability, useful exchange, progress, trust, reciprocity and mutual satisfaction.

What Relationism does is place this idea, in practice, front and centre in political decision-making, because institutions like government, markets and companies connect us all, en masse, on terms over which we have very little control but which nonetheless have a massive effect on human behaviour. Much corporate misconduct, for example, is a direct product of the way financial markets connect companies and investors. 

This kind of approach is completely new. It belongs to neither Left nor Right. It sees both Exit and Remain as incomplete solutions to the EU dilemma. It can be multi-faith or secular in application, yet draws on, and brings to life, a tradition of Christian thought deeply rooted across Europe. 

Relationism sees society in terms of its connectivity rather than as a single collective or as an aggregation of independent units. Politically, that makes it distinct both from collectivism, which subordinates the individual to the state, and from Western liberalism, in which the state is constrained by the rights and freedoms of the individual. It values liberty and equality but addresses these through the third virtue of fraternity – because societies and organizations stand or fall on the ability of their stakeholders to work in concert.

 

TWO CONCEPTS UNDERLYING RELATIONISM 

Relational Distance / Relational Proximity® 

All human relationships – even those between strangers, mediated en masse by economic and political systems – have a structural component that is separate from the actual interaction that takes place between the two parties. 

The component falls into three parts – parity, commonality and contact. If all of these are absent, no relationship exists. What makes them useful from the point of view of analysis and management is that they influence behaviour, attitudes, and the willingness to trust and cooperate. 

At a personal level, human beings manage and negotiate mutual levels of relational distance with which they feel comfortable. Systemic relationships, like those created by large organizations and international money markets, almost always create a social environment in which relational distance is high – and it is this quality that leaves such systems particularly prone to abuse. 

Measuring relational distance, and finding optimal levels for a relationship between two organizations and stakeholder groups, is key to making large systems stable and sustainable. 

In detail: 

Directness is the degree to which parties in a relationship are present to one another – physically and pyschologically. 

Continuity is the degree of mutual exposure of parties over time, including length, regularity and frequency of meeting and their cumulative effects. 

Multiplexity is the degree to which mutual knowledge between parties has quality, variety and depth. 

Parity is the degree to which fairness and respect are embedded across power asymmetries in the relationship. 

Commonality is the degree of alignment  between parties in their most significant values and goals. 

 

Relational Capital 

Relational capital is an aggregate measurement of the quality of the relationships in a given organization or system, often using metrics based on relational distance. 

Relational capital doesn’t indicate levels of reported trust or cooperation, but rather the potential of the system to generate prosocial behaviours. 

Online markets like Amazon are inherently low in relational capital – although features like star-ratings and reviews respond to the instinctive need of human beings to establish sufficient relational capital for the market to operate. By contrast, relational capital in smaller organizations and geographical communities  tends to be high.

 

Published by Cambridge University Press, The Relational Lens looks in depth at the ideas of relational distance and relational proximity that lie at the core of Relationism – particularly as they apply to organizations. Click the image to find the book on Amazon.