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In social science, a social relation or social interaction is any relationship between two or more individuals. Social relations derived from individual agency form the basis of social structure and the basic object for analysis by social scientists. Fundamental inquiries into the nature of social relations feature in the work of sociologists such as Max Weber in his theory of social action. Social relationships are a special case of social relations that can exist without any communication taking place between the actors involved.
Categorizing social interactions enables observational and other social research, such as Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (lit. "community and society"), collective consciousness, etc. However different schools and theories of sociology and other social sciences dispute the methods used for such investigations.
According to Piotr Sztompka, forms of relation and interaction in sociology and anthropology may be described as follows: first and most basic are animal-like behaviors, i.e. various physical movements of the body. Then there are actions – movements with a meaning and purpose. Then there are social behaviors, or social actions, which address (directly or indirectly) other people, which solicit a response from another agent. Next are social contacts, a pair of social actions, which form the beginning of social interactions. Social interactions in turn form the basis of social relations. Symbols define social relationships. Without symbols, our social life would be no more sophisticated than that of animals. For example, without symbols people would have no aunts or uncles, employers or teachers-or even brothers and sisters. In sum, symbolic integrations analyze how social life depends on the ways people define themselves and others. They study face-to-face interaction, examining how people make sense out of life, how they determine their relationships.
This sociological hierarchy is illustrated in the table below:
|Physical movement||Meaning||Directed towards others||Await response||Unique/rare interaction||Interactions||Accidental, not planned, but repeated interaction||Regular||Interactions described by law, custom, or tradition||A scheme of social interactions|
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