Social Exchange Theory 55
issue of distributive justice in social exchange relations. The irony derives from the fact that
Homans was explicitly much less interested in norms since he was preoccupied with the "sub-
institutional" level of analysis in his study of elementary social behavior. His effort to focus
on elementary behavior is derived in large part from his opposition to the heavily system-
oriented and normative views of Parsons that held sway during the time that he wrote his trea-
tise on social behavior. In his autobiography, Homans (1984) refers to Parsons main work on
the social system as the "yellow peril." We discuss Homans' conception of distributive justice
in greater detail in the section on fairness in exchange relations.
Homans' key propositions framed the study of social behavior in terms of rewards and pun-
ishments. Behavior that is rewarded in general continues (up to the limit of diminishing mar-
ginal utility). His first proposition, the success proposition, states that behavior that generates
positive consequences is likely to be repeated. The second proposition, the stimulus proposition,
states that behavior that has been rewarded on such occasions in the past will be performed in
similar situations. The value proposition, the third proposition, specifies that the more valuable
the result of an action is to an actor, the more likely that action is to be performed.
The fourth proposition, the deprivation-satiation proposition, qualifies the stimulus
proposition introducing the general ideal of diminishing marginal utility: the more often a
person has recently received a particular reward for an action, the less valuable is an addi-
tional unit of that reward. Finally, the fifth proposition specifies when individuals will react
emotionally to different reward situations. People will become angry and aggressive when
they do not receive what they anticipate. Homans (1974) later argues they can become angry
when they do not receive a fair rate of return, introducing the normative concept of distribu-
tive justice into his analysis of dyadic exchange.
Blau, writing at about the same time, framed his micro-exchange theory in terms of
rewards and costs as well, but took a decidedly more economic and utilitarian view of behav-
ior rather than building upon reinforcement principles derived from experimental behavioral
analysis. A key distinction between these two broad perspectives, as Heath (1976) points out,
is whether the actor is forward-looking or backward looking in his determination of what to
do next. Utilitarianism generally looks forward. Actors are viewed as acting in terms of antic-
ipated rewards that benefit them and they tend to choose that alternative course of action that
maximizes benefit (and minimizes cost, but see Molm, Takashashi, & Peterson, 2000).
Reinforcement theories look backwards with actors valuing what has been rewarding to them
in the past. The micro-level exchange theory in Blau's work is embryonic and under-
developed though it is one of the first attempts to apply utilitarianism derived from econom-
ics to social behavior.
Blau viewed social exchange as a process of central significance in social life and as
underlying the relations between groups as well as between individuals. He focused prima-
rily on the reciprocal exchange of extrinsic benefits and the forms of association and emer-
gent social structures that this kind of social interaction created. According to Blau (1964,
p. 91): "Social exchange ... refers to voluntary actions of individuals that are motivated by the
returns they are expected to bring and typically do in fact bring from others." In contrasting
social and economic exchange he emphasizes the fact that it is more likely in social exchange
for the nature of the obligations involved in the exchange to remain unspecified, at least ini-
tially. Social exchange, he argues, "involves the principle that one person does another a
favor, and while there is a general expectation of some future return, its exact nature is defi-
nitely not stipulated in advance" (Blau, 1986, p. 93).
The first third of the book specifies the nature of the social processes that result in asso-
ciations between individuals (e.g., attraction). Two conditions are defined as important in the