Metarelational models: Configurations of social relationships


Alan Page Fiske, Department of Anthropology, UCLA, 341 Haines Hall, 375 Portola Plaza, PO Box 951553, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1553, USA.



Beyond cognizing persons and social relationships, people also think about combinations of relationships: metarelational models (MeRMs). If relationships are words, then MeRMs are syntax; if relationships are atoms, MeRMs are chemical compounds. MeRMs are the motivated, emotionally experienced, morally directive models for generating, understanding, coordinating, planning, evaluating, modulating, sanctioning, and redressing configurations of social relationships. Previous research and theory on triads and balance, networks, cross-cutting ties, and kinship systems has explored the causal connections among social relationships, but MeRM theory posits something more: shared, culturally informed MeRMs that people use to jointly construct meaningful coordinated action. The social interactions of nonhuman animals and pre-verbal infants indicate that they use MeRMs, supporting the contention that core innate cognition includes the basic structures of MeRMs. There are six elementary kinds of MeRMs, and recursive linking of relational models (RMs) generates indefinitely more. MeRMs shape individual psychology, relationships, groups, institutions, and cultures. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.