Summary and Keywords
Well-rehearsed arguments have stressed that organizations and organizing are relational. With a transdisciplinary “relational turn” underway, particularly in closely related disciplines such as sociology, organizational studies, leadership, and management, it is not surprising to see an increasing number of educational administration and leadership literatures align with relations. However, this uncritical adoption of the importance of relations is problematic for research. Not all uses of the label “relational” are the same. For some, relational is applied as an adjective to advocate for a particular version of leadership or organizing. Others employ the term to describe an approach to understanding the co-determination of organizational activities and outcomes. Unlike the normative position underlying the adjectival use, the co-determinist is a variable-based approach with greater attention to measurement. Conflationism brings together two entities previous thought of as separate to offer an alternate version of relationalism. A fourth category offers a methodology and theoretical resources for understanding the social world.
Each of the four forms can claim to be relational. The distinctions among the forms have implications for what they offer educational administration and leadership research. The adjectival form is limited to advocating for a particular version of how to do things and is based on the common-sense argument that having positive relationships is a good thing. Co-determinism provides a framework for analyzing organizations and organizing and manipulating what are perceived as malleable pieces to maximize performance. Conflationism seeks to highlight the interwoven nature of what have traditionally been thought of as separate parts of a whole. The relational offers a way of thinking through relations with the social world and how these relations are both shaped by and shaping of organizing activity. Consistent with a focus on relations, the relevance and significance of relational research is not in having a single right version but in understanding knowledge claims in relation to alternatives and thinking through the implications for educational administration and leadership.
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