George Homans
(1910-1989)
Alex Jordahl and James Liu
Background
On August 11,1910,George Caspar Homans was born in
Boston to a wealthy Brahmin-style family. Eldest of four
children, followed by two sisters and a younger brother.
Grandparents were part of the upper class.
He greatly admired his father, Robert Homans.
Throughout George’s accomplishments as a naval
officer, a newspaper man, and finally, a scholar, Robert
was always there as a source of support and inspiration.
Benefited from his financially privileged household,
following in the footsteps of previous generations of
Homans.
Background
 1934-1939 was a junior fellow at Harvard,
1939-1941 became an instructor of sociology.
1941-1945 served his country as a naval officer
in 1946 was re-employed by Harvard as associate professor
of Sociology in the department founded and chaired by
Parson. However, he strongly disagreed Parson’s Grand
Theory, and didn’t think it was found on empirical
observation and deductive reasoning.
Served as the president of the American Sociological
Association (ASA) and spent his entire academic life at
Harvard.
Background
 Got a Bachelor’s degree of English Literature from
Harvard.
 Learned much practical Sociology in an environment in
which people were highly conscious of social relation.
(e.g. the membership to “final club” in Harvard depends on a mixture of
equalities – personal as well as chose related to class, religion and ethnic
background.)
 As a wealthy Bostonian who seemed to take the anti-
capitalist attack presented by Marxists personally, and the
ideas of Pareto providing him with a defense.
 Pareto’s idea influence a lot on Homans’ detailing the
basic laws of psychology that guide human behavior, his
application of general concepts associated with economics,
and his desire to establish full deductive theories or
explanations.
Background
 The publication of the Human Group demonstrated a
dramatic change in his theory.(from macro structural
functionalism to micro individual interaction)
 He contributed this theoretical shifts to the readings in
experimental psychology and his preference for the idea of
individualism.
 Especially impressed by the psychological behaviorism
best expressed by his colleague, the psychologist B.F.
Skinner whose ideas played a major role in the thinking
and development of Homan’s exchange theory.
Intellectual Influences
Bernard DeVoto
 Homans stated that he became the person who made
the biggest single difference to his intellectual life.
 Assigned Homans to read Bernard Mandeville’s The
Fable of the Bees, and Pareto’s Sociologie generale.
 “The greatest service Benny did me was to introduce
me to Professor Lawrence Joseph Henderson.”
Intellectual Influence
Lawrence Henderson
 Told him that to become a sociologist that he should learn
about the work that he and his colleague Elton Mayo were
conducting.
 Led Homans into direct contact with the new work found in
industrial sociology by himself and Mayo at the Harvard
Business School.
 Was a biochemist who was studying the physiological
characteristics of industrial work
Intellectual Influences
Elton Mayo
 A psychologist who was examining the human factor
associated with industrial work.
 Director of the famous studies conducted at the
Hawthorne Plant of the Western Electric Company in
Chicago.
 Found out about binging in the Bank Wiring Room.
Intellectual Influences
Elton Mayo
 Homans conducted his own follow up study of the Bank Wiring
Room years later and concluded that workers shared a common
body of sentiments.
 Much of Homans The Human Group was a theoretical reanalysis
of a series of previous studies of such diverse subjects as work
groups in factories, street gangs, the kinship system in primitive
societies, and the structure of a declining New England
community.
 Was attempting to develop a theoretical scheme of interrelated
propositions derived from observed regularities discovered in
these studies.
Intellectual Influences
Elton Mayo/Anthropology
 Mayo instructed his students to read books by prominent social
anthropologists, especially those that compared aboriginal and
modern societies in terms of social rituals in productive work.
 Homans believed that aboriginal societies were quite similar
and repeated themselves (in basic behavioral modes) in places
so far in separated time and place that they could not have
borrowed cultural ideas from one another.
 Concluded that human nature was the same the world
over.
 The Human Group was partially rooted in the functionalist
tradition of Durkheim and of the British anthropologists
Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, but his subsequent work
abandoned this functionalist viewpoint in favor of an
exchange perspective.
Intellectual Influences
Anthropology - Malinowski
 Influenced by his anthropological exchange
considerations.
 Was concerned with the role that exchange plays in
social life
 Spent years among the Trobriand Islanders of the
Melanesian Islands, where he concluded that mutual
exchange is the basis of social cohesion.
Intellectual Influences
Anthropology - Malinowski
 Found that reciprocy, the give and take principle, reigns
supreme. Became a critical element in Homans’ exchange
theory.
 Concept of exchange itself was influenced by his discussion of
“The Gift.”
 Anthropologits and exchange theorists argue that a crucial
aspect of gift exchanges bind society together through the
mutual obligations and increases social cohesion.
Intellectual Influences
Elton Mayo Cont.
 After exposing Homans to the ideas of anthropology,
Mayo then gave Homans a second group of books, mostly
on Durkheim.
 Read Durkheim’s research related to suicide.
 These readings upset Homans -Did not believe that the
nature of society could determine the nature of the
individual.
 Broke away from the influence of Mayo and his focused
turned toward B.F. Skinner.
Intellectual Influences
B.F. Skinner
 With his arrival at Harvard in 1948,came psychological
behaviorism, the famous pigeon studies, and the Skinner
Box.
 Regarded theories such as structural functionalism,
conflict, symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, and
phenomenology as “mystical enterprises.”
 Believed these theories distract sociologists from the only
concrete entities of study, behavior, and the consequences
that make such behavior more or less likely to occur.
 Culture is made by behaviors and concepts.
Intellectual Influences
B.F. Skinner
 Ideas and values are useless, what needs to be
understood are such things as costs and rewards.
 Internal states are irrelevant because they are
unobservable.
 Was a pioneer of operant behavior. (Homans would
use the world activity instead of operant)
 Fascinated by the prospects of the control of behavior
of animals and human beings.
Intellectual Influences
B.F. Skinner
 In formulating his version of exchange theory, Homans
turned to the behavioral school of experimental
psychology founded by Skinner.
 Homans treated the social exchange between Skinner and
his pigeons as the paradigm of all social exchange.
 Homan’s sociology is an attempt to build a theory about
social life from the basic behavioristic propositions
derived from Skinner’s psychology of operant conditioning.
 Believed that all behavior can be reduced to psychological
organismic behavior.
Intellectual Influences
George Simmel
 One of the first early major sociological theorists who
attempted to identify universal characteristics of human
behavior.
 Came to believe that peoples motives to make contact
with others, was to satisfy needs and pursue individual
goals.
 Suggested even though people do not receive equal
returns, their interactions are always based on some
expectation of reciprocity, and therefore should be viewed
as kinds of exchanges.
Concepts and Contributions
Exchange Theory
 Basic premise: people will continue to engage in behaviors
they find rewarding and cease to engage in behaviors
where the costs have proven to be too high in the past.
 Self-interest was the universal motive that made the world
go around.
 A reaction against Parsons, Durkheim, and structural
functionalism in general.
 Sociology should concern itself with explaining individual
behavior and interaction and have little interest in
consciousness or large-scale structures and institutions.
Concepts and Contributions
Exchange Theory
Focusing on what people get and what they contribute in
turn to the relationship.
Homans believed that in very interaction something is
being exchanged. Not only in the economic realm but also
come in the form of approval, esteem, love, affection,
allegiance, and other nonmaterialistic or symbolic
expressions.
In industrial observations, for example.
If workers feel that they are paid unfairly they may form a union,
bargain collectively with the employer or strike. But at the same
time, they will weigh the potential benefits against the cost. When
multiple value are involved, the rational calculation of benefits and
costs becomes very difficult. SELECT PHOBIA
Concepts and Contributions
Exchange Theory
 In short, Homans’ exchange theory “investigaes social
behaviors as an exchange or activity, tangible, or
intangible, and more or less rewarding or costly, between
at least two persons”
 He concluded five clear-cut propositions that he felt
explains all human behavior. These propositions are the
cornerstone of his exchange theory.
Human Exchange Propositions
The Success Proposition: The Principle of
Reward
If in the past an activity was rewarded, then the individual
is more likely to repeat the activity in the present.
a, The shorter the interval of time between the behavior and
the reward, the more likely the person will repeat it.
b, the more often a particular action of a person is rewarded,
the more likely the
person is to perform that same action.
Although in the pursuit of rewards there will be certain
costs, as long as the rewards are greater than the costs, the
activities are likely to be repeated next time.
The Stimulus Proposition: the Principle of
Experience
If a similar stimulus, or set of stimuli, present themselves
and resemble an originally rewarded activity, the individual
is likely to repeat that course of action. The more often, in a
given period of time, an individual’s activities reward the
activity of another, the more often the other will emit the
activity.
It reflect the concepts of value and quantity.
Quantity means the frequency of the reward during given period
of time; Value refer to the degree of the reinforcement which vary
from one person to another
The connection between the stimuli and the action is
subject to both generalization and discrimination.
The Value Proposition: Reward and Punishment,
the Principle of Value of Outcome
 Rewards vary by the degree of value.
 The variable, value, may take either a positive(reward) or
negative(punishment) form.
 Two classes of reward, intrinsic reward and the avoidance
of punishment; Two classes of punishment, intrinsic
punishment and the withholding of a reward.
 That means punishment or its threat, in addition to
reward, becomes a potentially powerful motivator of
action.
Combination of the First Three Propositions
Rationality Proposition or Rational Choice
These first three proposition assign value to our actions as
individuals seek to collect favorable outcomes.
 Homans believed, during the procedure of making
decision people often follow this formula,
A=pV, A means the likelihood of doing certain action, V means the value
of the result, p means the probability of getting the result.
If someone is choosing one within two course of actions. The value of result
of the first action is 3 unit to the person, and there is 1/3 chance to get this
result. While the value of the second action is 2, but the chance to get it is
2/3. Since A1=3 multiple 1/3 which is smaller than A2=2 multiple 2/3, most
people may tend to chose to emit the second action
I think this formula is displayed quite straight forward in the courtship. We seldom try to
pursue the person who is out of our league even though they are “perfect” because the chance
of success is often quite slim.
The Deprivation-Satiation Proposition: Principle
of Diminishing Returns
 “ The more often in the recent past a person has received a particular
reward, the less valuable any further unit of that reward becomes for
him or her.” (the effect of satiation)
 Any behavior that is rewarding reaches a point where it begins to lose
it value because it is too readily available.
 Deprivation aspect of this proposition: When an individual is forced to
go a long period of time without the desired reward, she or he will
begin to lose interest and move on, seeking other rewards from other
sources.
 But this proportion is subjected the value of the reward in question in
relation to the time it was last presented.
The Aggression-Approval Proposition. Principle of
Distributive Justice
 When a behavior does not receive the expected reward, or
is punished unexpectedly, the response is anger or
aggression and the aggressor will find such aggression
rewarding.
 When an individual does not receive the same rewards as
others, frustration occurs. They will be angry and learn to
complain.
 When a person’s action receives a greater reward than
expected, or does not receive a punishment when
expected, he or she will be pleased. Avoiding a doomed
punishment or getting a unexpected blessing, definitely
makes people happy.
Concepts and Contributions
Anitfuntionalist
 In 1967, Homans wrote The Nature of Social Science which
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was primarily in response to Parsons and structural –
functionalism.
Felt that explanation (of behavior) was possible only
through the use of propositions and all theories must have
them.
Believed Parson’s theories had none.
Summarized the explanation as the process of showing
how empirical findings follow from, can be deduced from,
general propositions under particular given conditions.
The general propositions are psychological and are
propositions about the behavior of humans rather than
about societies or other social groups.
Concepts and Contributions
Anitfunctionalist
 Confronted structural functionalists by directly attacking
Durkheim on three main issues:
 1. The Issues of Emergence – All emergent social phenomena could
be explained by psychological propositions.
 2. Durkheim’s View of Psychology – Psychology of Durkheim’s day
was very primitive and concentrated on instinctive forms of behavior.
 3. Durkheim’s Method of Explanation – Durkheim believed a social
fact is explained when one can find the facts that caused it. Homans
was concerned with the relationship between cause and effect and
argued that explanation was inevitably psychological.
Concepts and Contributions
Anitfunctionalist
 Homans also attacked the four types of explanation
used in analyzing institutions by structural
functionalists.
 1. Structural – Argued that institutions which was correlated with others do
not necessarily explain them.
 2. Functional: the belief that an institution exists because society could not
survive without it. – Felt that there is inadequate evidence to prove such an
assumption and that functional explanation in sociology is a failure.
 3. Historical: The institution is seen as the end product of a historical process.
– Homans saw this historical explanation as basically a psychological one.
 4. Ties in with historical explanation: All human institutions are products
of processes of historical change. – Argued that institutional change must be
explained by sociologists and that definitions of change should be based upon
psychological principles
Concepts and Contributions
Group System
 Viewed a group as a plurality of people in interaction.
 When the members of a group maintain an active involvement
with one another and share activities, interaction, sentiment
and norms, they have formed a social system.
 Homan’s was quite clear about elements that comprise the
group system, which are: activity, interaction, sentiments, and
norms.
Concepts and Contributions
Group System
 Activity- refers to what members of the group do as members.
 Interaction – Involved the relation of the activity of one
member of the group to that of another.
 Sentiment – The sum of the feelings of group members with
respect to the group.
 Norms – Code of behavior adopted consciously or
unconsciously by the group
Concepts and Contributions
Group System
 Homan’s group system is in the tradition of
Pareto, who views a group as “external in contrast
to internal system.”
 The group is external in that it meets in response
to the needs of outside environment
 The group is an internal system because the
elements of behavior are mutually depended.
 Changes to either the external or internal
elements causes changes in the group system.
 Homan’s used the term feedback to describe the
relationship between the internal and external
group systems.
Concepts and Contributions
Group Structure
 Explained that the collapse of entire civilizations can
be explained by the failure of a number of small
groups to properly meet the group system’s needs.
 Proper maintenance of the internal group system is at
least partially depended on the group structure.
 The action of group members if often dictated by
one’s status within the group structure
 Members have a varying degree of commitment to
maintain the social system.
Concepts and Contributions
Group Structure
 Social behavior is an exchange of rewards (and costs)
between persons.
 The more value a member holds to the group, the
more esteem they hold that individual to.
 The higher the esteem that one member holds, the
lower esteem that is available for the rest of the
members of the group.
Concepts and Contributions
Group Structure
 The higher the rank of a person within a group, the more nearly
his activities conform to the norms of the group.
 Each member has certain role obligations.
 When role obligations are met, the group has a better chance of
survival (maintenance).
 Most members of a group will meet their group needs due to
the acknowledgement of mutual obligations.
Concepts and Contributions
Group Structure
 When the members of a group are trying to change the behavior
of others, they will direct their attention to the individual who
has failed to meet group obligations.
 On the other hand, when the group influence has failed to
produce the proper interaction adjustment requested of the
deviant member, the group will greatly reduce their interaction
with this person.
 Group members will offer social approval as a “generalized
reinforcer” to those who provide activity they value.
Concepts and Contributions
Group Structure
 This increases the likelihood that approved action will
continue.
 Group members generally conform to the
expectations of the group because they find such
activities and interactions rewarding.
 Conformity is met with approval and acceptable
behavior is more likely to continue.
Concepts and Contributions
Power and Authority
 Homans felt that a person who influences other
members has authority.
 An individual earns authority by acquiring esteem,
which is done by rewarding others.
 Power can be defined as the ability to provide
valuable rewards.
Concepts and Contributions
Power and Authority
 Those with power and authority are in small numbers.
 Provides the seed for future conflict.
 When the leader directs others, they will inevitably
cause members to incur costs.
 As long as the leader also incurs costs this will help to
avoid conflict.
Concepts and Contributions
Power and Authority
 When rewards that are distributed seem fair
(distributive justice) the individual is satisfied.
 Humans act as if they find it valuable to realize fair
exchange.
 They will also expose emotional behavior toward this
end (the pursuit of distributive justice).
Relevancy
 Avoiding the pain and pursuing the pleasure can
be no more basic when regarding our human
nature, since the exchange theory are established
upon such principle, it will always be relevant as
long as the human nature doesn’t change.
 To demonstrate the relevancy of these
propositions to today’s or future world is nearly
pointless, as indeed, any behavior that one can
think of can easily be answered by one or more of
his propositions.
Relevancy
 From the basic level of exchange described by George
Homans and expanded upon by Peter Blau (especially at
the group level), to a “network analysis” approach by such
contemporary thinkers as Emerson and Cook.
 The best illustration of the bright future of exchange
theory is Gary Beckers winning of the prestigious Nobel
Prize for economics in 1992. He believes people make
rational choices about various behaviors based on
economic theories such as cost-benefit and incentives.
Criticisms
 Failure to provide an adequate analysis of
consciousness, ignored the norms and values that
symbolically shape exchange relations.
 Not all the sociological behaviors are reducible to
pure psychological principles
 As Pareto had previously pointed out, and
Homans failed to address, behavior has both
“logical” as well as “nonlogical” aspects, but both
provide the framework in which behavior is
motivated.
 To micro in his orientation and for failure to
address the macro structural issues of society.
Philosophy
 Realism vs. Idealism
-Realism because of his strong ontological views,
studying conceptions of reality.
 Realism vs. Nominalism
-Nominalism because he believes in experiments.
Have to be able to experience things with your
senses in order to do an experiment.
 Idealism vs. Materialism
-Materialism because of his deductivenomological approach that states that a general
law can cover all similar situations and allows for
outcomes to be deduced.
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George Homans (1910-1989)