In the introduction to this HSR Special Issue we provide an exposition and overview of Elias and Scotson’s Established and Outsiders, seeking to identify the empirical and conceptual significance of the relational model of inter-group tensions contained therein. Our core argument is that Elias and Scotson wrote in the historical context of a British intellectual zeitgeist in which a preoccupation with ‘established’ groups followed from proto-Marxist political/macrosociological concerns with the reproduction of social elites; and an engagement with ‘outsiders’, which followed from an ascendant micro-sociological concern with sub-cultural and ‘deviant’ groups who defined themselves in opposition to a dominant mainstream. Elias and Scotson’s contribution, viewed in this vein, was to provide a radically relational theoretical-empirical model which synthesised micro, meso and macro sociological concerns with social power dynamics into a unified synthetic scheme. We propose that while such a model is entirely consistent with the broader conceptual architecture of Elias’s approach, it is important also to recognise the not insignificant influence of Scotson’s empirical work in informing the specific concerns of their study. We further reflect upon the origins of the study and its implications for our more general methodological questions relating to undertaking ‘figurational analysis’ in the context of historical social research.