George Homans: Social Exchange Theory


What is 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.