Social Exchange Theory
By Nate Ryan and Courtney Lovetinsky
Originated during 1950s, primarily through George
Illustrates effort to fuse the principles of behaviorism
and economics with other ideas and apply them to the
concerns of sociologists.
Assumes that human behavior can be explained by
natural “laws.”
Influences on Social Exchange
Cultural Anthropology
Culture is unique, especially in social rituals
Homans concluded societies are not unique and act towards
common goals and aspirations for their interactions with others.
Psychological Behaviorism
B.F. Skinner, viewed social theories as “mystical
enterprises.” Distracted sociologists from concrete
entities of study.
Stimulus-Response notion. When a subject is
presented with a stimulus, a response is automatically
Pigeon experiment
Human language exists on basis of differential
Homans and Social Exchange
Homans’s sociology builds on a theory about social life
from the behavioristic propositions of Skinner’s
Psychology of operant conditioning.
Exchange Theory is deterministic and there are two
types of determinism.
Strong Ontological (nature of being).
Weak epistemological (nature of knowing).
Denies conscious beings.
Utilitarian Economics
Basic economic theory rests on certain premises about
individual psychology and their implications for peope’s
Rational Choice Theorists developed four basic
Four basic propositions
Individuals are rational profit maximizers, making decisions
on the basis of their tastes and preferences.
The more of something one has, the less interested he or
she will be in more of it.
Prices are set by tastes of buyers and sellers. Greater the
demand, the higher its price will be.
Goods are more expensive if sold by a monopolist than if
supplied multiple firms in competition with each other.
Human Behavior
The Five Propositions of All Human Behavior
The Success Proposition: If an activity was previously rewarded, then
the individual is more likely to repeat the activity again.
The Stimulus Proposition: Principle of experience. If a similar stimulus
presents itself and resembles an originally awarded activity, the
individual is likely to repeat that course of action.
The Value Proposition: Principle of value of outcome. The more
valuable to an individual a unit of the activity another gives him/her,
the more often he/she will emit the activity rewarded by the activity of
the other. (watching football)
The Deprivation-Satiation Proposition: Principle of diminishing
returns. Someone who goes a long time without a desired reward
becomes far more willing to engage in behavior that will lead to desired
reward. (Being away from loved ones)
The Aggression-Approval Proposition: When a behavior does not
receive expected reward, the response is anger or aggression. (Students
The Group System
Activity: What the members of a group do as members.
Interaction: 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.
Power and Authority
Homans felt that a person who influences other members
has authority.
An individual earns authority by acquiring esteem and
acquires esteem by rewarding others.
Power can be defined as the ability to provide valuable
When directing others, the leader inevitably causes the
members to incur costs. The leader’s incurring costs will
help prevent conflict.
Example: If employees are asked to work late, they will be
less upset if the boss also stays and works late.
Peter Blau
( 1918 - 2002)
" One cannot marry an eskimo, if no eskimo is around."
Born on February 7, 1918 in Vienna, Austria
Immigrated to the United States in 1939 and became an American citizen
in 1943, after serving in World War II
Received his PhD at Columbia University in 1952
In 1974 he served as the President of the American sociological Association
Was an instructor at Wayne State University in Detroit, at the University of
Chicago, then returned to Columbia University in 1988
From 1988 to 2000 he taught as an emeritus professor at the University of
North Carolina
His Works
The Organization of Academic Work (1973)
Blau discusses the role of theory as a formal theory from which empirical
predictions can be logically deduced plays the dominant role in research
that is designed to test the predictions.
Exchange And Power in Social Life (1964)
Represents Blau's major contribution to exchange theory similar to Homan's.
However, Homans is concerned with setting out a deductive theory of
behavior in general while Blau sees exchange as one particular aspect of
most social behavior. His analyses suggest how to exchange perspective can
provide explanation.
Exchange and Power in Social Life
Blau acknowledged his devotion to Simmel's idea of exchange and described
social exchange as a central principle in social life, which is derived from
primitive terms, and from which complex social forces are derived.
Blau's Implicit Exchange Principles
1. Rationality Principle: The more profit people expect from one another
in participating in such an activity, the more likely they are to engage in it.
2. Reciprocity Principles:
A. The more people have exchanged rewards with one another, the
more the reciprocal obligations that emerge and guide exchanges among
these people.
B. The more the reciprocal obligations of an exchange relationship are
violated, the more disposed deprived parties are to sanction negatively those
violating the norm of reciprocity.
3. Justice Principles:
A. The more exchange relations have been established, the more likely
they are to be governed by norms of fair exchange.
B. The less norms of fairness are realized in an exchange, the more
disposed deprived parties are to sanction negatively those violating the norms.
Implicit Exchange Principles
4. Marginal Utility Principle: The more expected rewards have been
forthcoming from a particular activity, the less valuable the activity is and
the less likely its performance is.
5. Imbalance Principle: The more stabilized and balanced one set of
exchange relations is among social units, the more likely are other exchange
relations to become imbalanced and unstable.
Group Formation
Blau discusses social exchange and how it must be directed toward other persons;
consequently, social interaction begins with social groups. Individuals choose what groups
to interact with based on the rewards they can receive.
The formation of a group involves development of bonds that unite individuals in a cohesive
unit, they are listed as Blau discussed:
1. Impressing Others: Taking risks, performing role distance, and being able to exhibit both
strain and ease, depending on the occasion.
2. Social Approval: Humans are anxious to receive social approval for their decisions and
actions, opinions, and suggestions. The approving agreement of others helps to confirm
their judgments, to justify their conduct, and validate their beliefs.
3. Attractiveness: First impressions can be self-fulfilling as well as self-defeating, along with
opinions of others. Bluffing is a mechanism utilized by some people.
4. Love: Love appears to make human beings unselfish, since they themselves enjoy giving
pleasure to those they love, but this selfless devotion generally rests on an interest in
maintaining the other's love.
Bureaucracy & Social Organization
Blau defines bureaucracy as: A type of organization designed to
accomplish large-scale administrative tasks by systematically coordinating
the work of many individuals.
His studies began with The Dynamics of Bureaucracy (1955), in which he
presented systematic investigations of the bureaucratic structure and
Throughout his analysis of organizations Blau examined the role of
organizational substructures, and found that the system still depends on
costs and rewards.
Karen Cook
( 1946 - Present)
Cook's Background
•Born July 25, 1946 in Austin, Texas
•Attended college at Stanford University with her twin brother Ken
•Received her PhD with distinction in sociology from Stanford in 1973
•Was an assistant professor of Sociology at University of Washington
•At Duke University she served as a professor of Sociology
She left Duke in 1988 for her current position as the Ray Lyman Wilbur
of Sociology at Stanford University
George Homans
Peter Blau
Was employed by Blau, who had extended ideas of Homans
Richard Emerson
Like Emerson, Cook began with the basic, microlevel premises of exchange
Cook examined the relationship between general exchange and social
A social dilemma is: A situation involving a particular type of incentive structure such that, 1) if
all group members cooperate, all gain, whereas, 2) for each individual it is more beneficial
not to cooperate.
Exchange Networks
1. There is a set of either individual or collective actors
2. Valued resources are distributed among the actors
3. There is a set of opportunities for exchange among all actors in
the network
4. Exchange relations, or exchange opportunities, exist among the
5. Exchange relations are connected to one another in a single
network structure
•The study of power in groups in relationships will always be
relevant in sociological theory.
•Blau and Cook, along with other theorists have attempted to
bridge the micro-macro divide.
•All social theories take different approaches to their study of
human behavior for example: symbolic interactionism,
ethnomethodology, and phenomenology.
•Social Exchange Theory is one of the most relevant theories in
explanation of human behavior.