The the Theory of Social Exchange of G.C. Homans[Enter Paper Title]

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The theory of social exchange by G.C. Homans
several of the currently popular theories of sociologynamely, structural
exchange theory, rational choice theory, and network exchange theory have
their roots in Homans’s work. His ideas, to be sure, had a profound influence,
positively or negatively, on the thinking of major sociologists like Richard M.
Emerson, Peter M. Blau and James S. Coleman. Moreover, Homans’s famous
plea for, as the title of his important article has it, “Bringing Men Back I n”
(1964), led sociology away from an overly abstract focus on society and toward
the earnest consideration of human activity, be that in the form of symbolic
interactionism, Goffmanian sociology, ethnomethodology, or economic
sociology Homans did not and would not endorse, but which nevertheless have
a “micro” focus of analysis. Thus, given his persistent influence, it seems
appropriate to revisit Homans’ theory.
Homans defines the concept of interaction as synonymous with the concept of "social behaviour"
(1961, p. 35). He writes that "when an action (or sentiment) emitted by one man is rewarded (or
punished) by the action issued by another man, then, regardless of the type of emitted behaviour, we
say that these two people interact." Rewards can be either tangible or intangible, and Homans does
not restrict in any way this concept (ie everything can be a reward), distinguishing only a special class
among them: sentiments externalized in behaviour (sentiments) as signs of some internal
psychological states, emotional attitudes towards others (eg approval). We should add that behaviour
expressed within the scope of such understood interaction is called by Homans elementary social
These initial assumptions are further developed by Homans. In a fairly systematic way, he introduces
a number of categories and statements of his theory, referring to the findings of two branches of
science: behavioural psychology, especially in its version proposed by B.F. Skinner, and the so-called
microeconomics. As we shall see, in addition to the above two, recognized by the author, there is also
another one equally important, though more hidden source of his ideas. About this, however, later, for
now let's discuss Skinner's experimental studies that provided the essential inspiration for Homans,
the experiments whose object was a caged dove. The bird moves in its room and pecks, sometimes
hitting a certain point. Then the experimenter as a reward feeds it with grain. It turns out that the
pigeon will again peck at the target, namely, as Homans says, it will "emit behaviour" bringing it a
coveted reward, the food. In the terminology used by Skinner and then by Homans, this behaviour has
been reinforced, and the dove itself has been subjected to instrumental conditioning (in the more
colloquial language: it learned this behaviour.) What patterns regarding manifestations of learned
behaviour can be determined on the basis of Skinner's studies? Among other things, the following: a
pigeon will peck the more, the more it is hungry, ie the less food it has received lately. Conversely,
increased, along with frequently repeated enhancement, saturation implies a reduction in its activity.
Meanwhile, total lack of reinforcement in the long run will lead to the complete extinction of the
behaviour. Finally, the dove also meets the aversive conditions, or penalties (e.g. experimenter can
pour a bucket of water on it.) The penalties, which the pigeon cannot avoid, if it wants to turn on the
behaviour leading to a reward, Homans calls "cost". The result of the existence of a cost is reduction
of the frequency of relevant behaviours. Not only being in aversive conditions has punishing
properties, but also the withdrawal of reinforcing properties; the direct result of interruption of feeding
is," in an animal "emotional behaviour called aggression." As it turns out, we already have in this way
all the essential elements needed to formulate the theory of social exchange, human exchange;
according to Homans, it is enough to repeal the assumption of a one-way exchange, which it has in
the case of the dove-experimenter relationship. When there are two human individuals facing each
other then provided that "each of them shows behaviour to some extent reinforced by the other's
behaviour, we do not need any new statements to describe and explain their social behaviour
(Homans, 1975, p. 106; Homans, 1961, p. 30).
The outlined "laws of individual behaviour", binding for both a pigeon and the man, according to
Homans, "result in laws of social behaviour." One only needs to "extrapolate" the results of
observations of animals onto the regularity of behaviour of people introducing not more than a few
additional terms, especially occurring in economics, and not used by Skinner. We will get to know
them soon, in the course of discussing the five basic theorems of the theory of exchange formulated
by Homans. Of course, one could right away report doubts about the cognitive value of these claims,
"binding - as Homans writes - for the behaviour of all higher animals" (Homans 1974, p. 15), (among
which the author of Social Behaviour also counts the man). Homans admits that the man differs from a
pigeon, bringing this specificity, unless you count the obvious anatomical differences, to the
possession of a language, and in the second edition of his book he adds "exceptional intelligence"
appropriate for the homo species). One can therefore ask - ignoring any other possible substantive
evaluations of the Homans way of understanding the relationship between the animal and human
world - can behaviour which is the consequence of among others these differences be explained by
using statements - describing what is common to man and beast?1
2. The PROPOSITIONS of the theory of exchange in the light of its own
Let's suppose, however, sympathetic attitude towards Homans, giving author of "Social Behaviour" the
benefit of the doubt, let us consider the statements of the theory of exchange - as suggested by the
author - "as if they applied only to human behaviour" (Homans, 1974a, p. 15). Within this, more
'internal' point of view, let's try and look at those arguments of the Homans theory from the point of
view among others their logical consistency, precision of concepts, explanatory power and similar
attributes of science, which should be in place given the intentions of their creator.
Homans is characterized by high expectations about standards of research conduct in science. His
claims are to go beyond the mere "quality, anatomical view of human behaviour" - as Homans defines
them with a hint of pejorative note; although not reaching the rank of statements such as "x = log y,
they state however the regularities " x varies depending on the y " which say that the value of x
increases with each increase in the value of "y", which implies that x and y are quantitative variables.
The explanation, or otherwise - the creation of a theory of the phenomenon consists in, according to
Homans the formulation of a "deductive system, ie such that explicandum (what is explained - with a
general form of "a claim that adjudicates the relationship between at least two features of the reality")
is a logical consequence can be logically derived from other, more general premises of the
system"(Homans, 1961, p. 51, 1974, p. 8). Let us begin, therefore, in accordance with previous
assumptions, our analysis of the theory of exchange by an attempt (to measure it with its own, that is
to say, acknowledged by the author himself measure.
Proposition 1: "If in the past, the occurrence of a particular stimulus situation (in the issue of Social
Behaviour from 1974 this was simply called a "stimulus" or a set of "stimuli") was associated with an
reward, then the more closely the stimulus situation resembles the situation from the past, the more
likely it is that the same or similar action will occur" (Homans, 1961, p. 53).
In the revised edition of the book it was called:
The Stimulus Proposition: If in the past the occurrence of a particular stimulus, or set of
stimuli, has been the occasion on which a person’s action has been rewarded, then the more
1 Cf. Sulek (1975, p. 1990 to 1992), where we read that the results of experiments on animals are fundamentally
inadequate to explain (the areas of human-specific phenomena ) . The article also mentions a number of
conditions that must be met in the animal experiment, if it is later to be used to draw any analogy with human
behavior; the assumptions of such an experiment "should define: the modeled phenomena area, i.e. the subject of
an analogy;
a) phylogenetic limits of analogy, and more precisely to positively prejudge the question of the existence of
analogies between the used animal model and the human original;
b) phenomena that determine that the object under investigation is suitable for the model ;
c) should also recognize the specific features of the original as irrelevant to the course of the mapped
phenomena. " The author's critical conclusion that "in fact these assumptions are rarely formulated, and
if so, then in rudimentary form" also refers to Homans. In the general criticism - on the basis of
psychology - behaviorist direction (especially in the Skinner version) which is the basis for theoretical
concepts of Homans’ approach. However, Stanislaw Ossowski draws attention to the unsuitability of
concepts based on assumptions of behaviorism for understanding social life assessing the "research on
the formation of conditioned reflexes, or, more broadly, on the mechanism of the formation of imperative
habits and on the mechanism of their disappearance" in this way: "the most general laws (formation and
decay of habits) can, as it seems, receive a very high degree of generality, but they are not the laws
regarding social phenomena: if a living creature of the same or distinct species acts as a stimulus in
shaping the habits of other creatures, then, according to these general laws, it plays it in the same role
as other stimuli "(p. 334).
similar the present stimuli are to the past ones, the more likely the person is to perform the
action, or some similar action, now (Homans 1974: 22-23).
The Value Proposition: The more valuable to a person is the result of his action, the more
likely he is to perform the action. (Homans 1974: 25).
One can see immediately that the key concept in the preceding sentence is the concept of the
stimulus, or "stimulus situations", and (similarities existing between the two such situations that the
observer must be able to determine if the Homans statement is to have postulated explanatory power.
Homans gives no rules that may serve in determining the similarities
between two teams of stimuli (ie typically associated with
obtaining reward factors), what's more, he does not say anything
about how to distinguish a stimulus from what is not
a stimulus. He admits himself that the problem of (isolating) distinguishing stimuli,
determining the similarities and differences between them "can be
extremely complicated "and lack of its clear solution
on his part he considers a "great gap" in the whole concept.
The way out that he suggests is highly unsatisfactory,
and in a sense only worsens the situation, as it reveals
some, as we shall see, quite a general feature of the theory of
Homans as a whole. The author of Social Behaviour suggests
namely, that in the case when "the same kind of action
is repeated, one should virtually take stimuli for granted
and explain changes in behaviour through
looking at the way in which it is enhanced "(Homans, 1961, p. 54).
If we called attention to this sentence, it is because it reveals
circularity of the "first law of exchange theory." Without
having criteria for the determination of the similarity between the two
stimuli situations, as well as any definition of reward that is independent from the proposition, we are
forced - when
using this "law" - to reverse the order
of parts occurring in it, and hence, to deprive it of-
the status of "general behaviour law." The "explanation" that
we are able to, using Homans assertion, able to
provide, is a typical example of ex post facto explanation:
we observe the occurrence of a behaviour and we conclude that
in that case it must have been rewarded in the past
in some respect - under similar conditions (although the "law"
would require us to do the opposite - on the basis of the fact of
"reward" to recongnise the likelihood of an occurrence of
a behaviour). We have to, not being able to say with confidence
that the current situation "is similar" to the former, nor to distinguish
what, in this situation is the reward from what is not
- to accept the faith that the behaviour "which is more
likely in the situation" and behaviour, which is referred to
in the first part of the theorem, involving the
occurrence of "stimulus" and the reward is one and the same behaviour.
The above example provides evidence of the dangers linked with the direct
takeover by a researcher of human behaviour of conclusions and
methods of animal psychology. Experimenter from the study of
the pigeon could in fact relatively easy solve all
difficulties encountered by his findings having been transferred into human reality. In
artificial conditions isolated from all external influences,
one can actually get a similarity of "stimulus
situations"- for example, by extracting a bell as a stimulus, which
resounds with each peck of the pigeon at the target.
Similarly, knowing that the dove before the experiment was not
fed for a long time, it easily concluded that
nothing other than "reduction of hunger", obtaining
food will be a reward for the animal.
Of course, in real life social circumstances
such situations - attainable in the laboratory - do
not happen at all or very seldom, which, naturally,
undermines the value of reasoning, which is based precisely on
the assumption of the possibility of identification, including under one
universal "law." The same reservations can be addressed towards
the second argument presented by Homans:
Proposition (2) "The more frequently within a given time segment, human activity rewards an action of
the other, the more
frequently the other will emit rewarded action "(Homans, 1961, p. 54).
This contention is also known as:
The Success Proposition: For all actions taken by persons, the more often a particular action
of a person is rewarded, the more likely the person is to perform that action (Homans 1974:
Also here the only indicator of "rewarding" properties
of behaviour of one person to another is the fact of taking
actions by the latter, which, as it is assumed, are to be
the result of this positive stimulation. Here, too, the order
of reasoning is the opposite than assumed by the Homans "law"
and involving the researcher in a "vicious circle"; it is said that the person
B manifests certain behaviours, those that met
with the reward from the person A, but wanting to show the fact of being
actions of the person A an reward for the person B, may be given as the only
evidence that B "emits" these behaviours. S. Nowak
has a similar opinion, writing that with relevant theories
of learning "the meaning of the term reward, law
with strengthening the role of rewards is a definition tautology...
essentially empirically impossible to solve" (1970, p. 200-2). Independendnt from these drawbacks of
the Homans position,
different type of difficulties can occur in the case of the
concept of "frequency". This concept has great significance in the theory
of exchange, because "it constitutes a measure of amount of action."
The possibility of measurement carried out with it assumes
however, which Homans recognizes, the existence of
"units of action, that can be counted" (Homans, 1961, p. 36). Whereas in
the case of the pigeon the indication of such unit ("pecks")
was not a complicated matter,
the author admits, that "in the case of human actions, the isolation of
units, and hence calculation of frequency can
not be so easy "(Homans, 1974b, p.18). . In the face of explanatory and deductive
ambitions of Homans the solution that he proposes in this situation may surprise
: "methodological liberalism"
tantamount to ... the absence of rules in this area. Each
method of choice "action units" is good, on
condition that it is suitable; one can recognize that it is suitable
on the basis of Homans understanding of the methodology probably only
in one way ... saying that it is good. Opening
an arbitrary way, - no rules are provided
of preference for one rather than the other way of defining units.
The next one, called in the revised version of the work: the Value Proposition: The more
valuable to a person is the result of his action, the more likely he is to perform the action.
(Homans 1974: 25),
And in the first edition: Proposition (3) to the effect that "
The more valuable to the human the action unit, which
is given to him by the second, the more often he will emit activity
rewarded by the action of the other" (Homans, 1961, p. 55) (e.g.: the more someone
needs help, the more often he will ask for it, and the
more thanks - constituting an reward for the other -
he will give upon its receipt). In the view of Homans,
This proposition reinforces very much the explanatory power of the whole
theory, because in conjunction with the proposition (2) it will allow
to measure the "rate of exchange" between the two activities (aimed to be
an equivalent of price in the economy as defining the number of
units of a particular product, which can be exchanged for a given
number of units of other goods) and to determine the proportion in which
amounts of "emited units of action" remain towards each other. "The rate of exchange" Homans
defines as "the number of units of action that a person emits in each limited period of time in exchange
for a certain number of units issued by the other person."
The author hastens to the practical demonstration of the values of his law,
argues that "in pursuance thereof, the rate of exchange between the approval and
help (sample enumerated "goods" - editor. JT)
should be equal to the ratio between the value imparted by
the person to help and the value that the other person gives to
approval (Homans, 1961, p. 55). We omit the moment of problem of Homans
solution to the issue of isolation of "units of action" which
are in question (in both cases, the author proposes to use
"minutes": both in terms of approval and support; that
"a minute of help" can mean something completely different than
"a minute of approval" (and that help can regard
different issues, and thus help is unequal help), it is not an obstacle for him
to bring both of these "actions" to one
common denominator). The possibility to set any
"equivalence, equality" and "proportionality" of which
the statement talks, however, assumes as a prerequisite
the possibility of an independent measurement, and thus determining
units occurring therein. Meanwhile, the status of the concept
of "value" is represented in the theory of Homans analogically to
the definition (or rather lack thereof) of "reward": you can not - contrary to the postulate of Homans -
explain by this concept
(understood by the author as "the degree of strengthening (or
punishment that man obtains from a given unit of action "(Homans, 1961, p. 40) )
the fact of taking such and such actions by the unit, because
the sole proof that the value is a factor motivating them
is the observation of these same behaviours that
are to be explained by it and not be used as a basis for
inference of its existence. (Compare examples of Homans:
"Our only way to measure the relative value of milk and tea for the Chinese is to observe whether he
will perform more work to obtain one of these things than to have the other" (Homans, 1964, p. 955)
The way of measuring "factors in the "law" is just another way of expressing the contents of the law 2 .
The concept of value is on the basis of the theory of Homans among the most ambiguous. In the
quoted formulation, it still has behavioural connotation. Soon, however, 'value' appears as the
"psychological value" (p. 62) and as noted by
Ossowski, Homans "resigns from behaviourist purism" (1967, p. 346). O. G. Homans, Contemporary
Theory in Sociology, in: RE. Faris (ed.), Handbook of Modern Sociology, Chicago 1964, p. 195.
This same example is to be found in Social Behaviour in the form of a syllogism:
The greater value the result of an action has for a person the more likely that he will perform this
For the Chinese tea has more value than milk.
2 Homans postulates, in order to come out of the trap, return to "history" of an individual in order to know its value.
But of course it only moves the problem on a temporarily different level, without removing the difficulty - we do not
exceed the vicious circle of argument: "the greater value - for example - help has for one person, the more he will
take action rewarded by help (Social. .. , p. 1943) either in a present, or its past version. It is also Skidmore draws
attention to that fact 1975, p.35). and Talcott Parsons writes that "history becomes for Homans a final residual
category, escape to which can resolve every difficulty which arises due to shortcomings in the more specific parts
of the conceptual scheme ...he makes history very extensive and very laden residual category, as history is not
analyzed here, but taken as given" (Turk 1971, p. 34).
Therefore, it is more likely that the Chinese will take an action that results in getting tea rather than
getting milk" (Social ..., 1974, p.36; premise of this syllogism is a slightly modified form of our
Proposition (3).
According to Homans, anything can have a value for the human, (1961, p. 45, 79, 287, 1944, p. 27,
270), as everything can be for him (an reward (the value is always "the value of reward" - or negative
reward, ie.g. penalty).
Yet we know that if something is supposed to explain everything then
as a result, it explains nothing, and such a role, the pseudo explanatory concepts
is actually performed by these and other categories
of his theory. Since the concept of value or the reward does not contain any concrete empirical
content, then their incorporation in the theoretical proposition may not give it
explanatory values or makes it a statement seemingly
explanatory, because you can always say that something is
a "reward" or a "value" and there is no way that this sentence can be
Here's one example of essentially tautological nature of the whole theory of exchange. Homans
explains the phenomenon of a group conformism in the following way: "Suppose a person A is a man
who considers it valuable that his behaviour is subordinated to a group norm and that person B's
behaviour is also subordinated to it. If the person B considers the same values as the person, A, so
the conformity of each of them is the value for the other, then the person A rewards the person B and
the person B rewards the person A to a more or less the same extent. The exchange between the two
is in a state of equilibrium" (Homans, 1961, p.116).
In the second edition of Social Behaviour Homans admits that the proposition in which there is the
concept of value is a tautology (he motivates the persistence of this concept with its teaching
usefulness, p. 36), he also withdraws from the former thesis anticipating the possibility of comparison
the values (ibidem, v., p.. 74). But what if
instead of "person B" there will be a "person C", who will not want to submit to the norms prevailing in
the group? Well, apparently, the theorist responds, the person C "sufficiently strongly praises actions
inconsistent with conformism." In other
words - someone submits, this means the person appreciates the subordination, if someone does not
comply - no hassle - he or she does not appreciate subordination. Figurative sense of Homans' notion
of value and based on it "third law of exchange" is also shown clearly by the case of the application of
them not to the phenomena of small groups, but historical events
. The author of "Social Behaviour" explains why William the Conqueror never conquered Scotland with
the following inference schema: 1 The greater value a reward has for an individual, the more likely it is
that the individual will take an action to obtain the reward (this is a version of Preposition (3).
In the circumstances, William the Conqueror (specific individual) did not consider the conquest of
Scotland, for something of value
thus, it was unlikely that he would take action to Conquer Scotland (Homans, 1967, p. 44).
Thanks to the fact that it includes the said "law", this pattern corresponds, according to Homans, to the
scientific standards "and is a " real explanation ", but the same standards of science do not consider"
for real " the circular explanation, and this is what we are dealing with in this case . The author in fact
has no evidence that William the Conqueror did not regard the conquest of Scotland for something of
value, except only that he did not conquer Scotland (and therefore the fact that was to be explained
itself), "Law" used as the main link of the explanation turns out to be nothing less than tautology, since
the value of the reward and the associated action are in fact only verbally different conclusions from
the same empirical state of affairs (lack of conquest of Scotland by William).
The same rules are applied, subject hence to the same criticism, by Homans in explaining the conduct
of his hypothetical individual - "interactor".
He gives him as a partner a person liked by him - but at the same time a person whose views he
disagrees with. How to explain in this situation our hero's choice of one of the two alternatives facing
him: a change of partner or changes of beliefs? Homans responds with an assertion of nature that
does not differ from the method described by Moliere of accounting for the fact of creating a dream
through opium by the circumstance that it has hypnotic properties: "probably the person who gives
more value to getting consent form another person than to reward of original exchange, will take the
first opportunity and will break the initial exchange.. . meanwhile the person for whom the value of the
initial exchange outweighs the expense of giving up his opinion, is likely to adopt the second option
and will change his mind in the direction of the consent with the partner" (Homans, 1974b, p. 62).
However, even assuming the solution of all the difficulties inherent in the c oncept of "value" as a
category empirically explanatory - does the law (3) of Homans used in the above "deductive system"
as "a condition for higher reasoning add anything to the understanding of the proceedings of our ruler?
Homans' notion of scientific explanation comes from "these positivist traditions
described by Ossowski as such according to which "the explanation consists in indicating the general
proposition, which
is a logical premise for sentences claiming the occurrence of
specific phenomena. In the plain language, explanation would consist in the conclusion that this
always happens. "
One should also agree with Ossowski, when he states that
"the relationship between the phenomena does not always become clearer
when the general argument is given, which is the right logic for
appropriate detailed sentences" (Ossowski, 1967, p. 265). The programme of deductive
explanation in Homans' version is an explicit opting
on the side of ahistorical position, understood as
"the explanation of certain social concretes by
indication that they are merely a variation of some general
universally applicable category or a universal
ahistorical law"( Kozyr-Kowalski, Ladosz 1976, p. 191-2).
Marx has pointed out that it is the fashion to preface a work of economics with a general part and precisely
this part figures under the title ‘production (see for example J. St. Mill) [7] treating of the general
preconditions of all production. This general part consists or is alleged to consist of (1) the conditions without
which production is not possible. I.e. in fact, to indicate nothing more than the essential moments of all
production. But, […]see, this reduces itself in fact to a few very simple characteristics, which are hammered out
into flat tautologies( 1939).
This is not the only moment in which Homans' ahistorical approach manifests itself,
although not exhaustive
the features of the way of understanding the scientific theory by the author
of Social Behaviour. Further of these features reveals the next of the "laws"
of exchange: Proposition (4): "The more frequently in the recent past
a man received rewarding actions from the other, the
less valuable each subsequent unit of this action becomes for him
and, therefore, Homans adds, "by the power of the Proposition (3), the less he will emit an action that
brings him the reward" (Homans, 1961, p. 55). It is enough to compare this sentence with the
proposition (2) to see that they state greatly conflicting dependencies: once the reward is to cause an
increase in the frequency of behaviour (proposition 2)), once, on the contrary, its decrease (proposition
(4)). Now truly the theory of exchange has gained an almost unprecedented universalism: there is
simply no fact that
could undermine it, and there is no phenomenon that it could
not "explain". Homans, indeed, sees this
contradiction, saying that the "proposition assertion (4) may mask
the truth of the proposition (2) ... this proposition is valid
only when all other conditions are equal; among those
other conditions is the effect of proposition (4) that
saturation reduces the degree of emission of action." he further points out
that "in the case of a pigeon living in its natural state there lacks
an experimental control to separate effects (judged
by these two propositions) (Homans, 1961, p. 55, 21). If you can not
di it in the case of a pigeon, then probably even more so in
the case of a man living in a society; respectively,
a social scientist is left free to choose a proposition "matching"
the observed state of affairs, "explaining"
transforms into explanation constructed ad hoc. The theory
of Homans is therefore subject to the full extent of Ossowski’s critical remark,
that once fashionable phrase ceteris paribus deprives
the general theory of empirical risk and the empirical
utility "(Ossowski, 1967, p. 328).
At the same time, thanks to the above comments, we have arrived at a general
and characteristic feature of
Homans' way of theorizing: for almost every state
of affairs, to which the theory of exchange refers, for each
relationship stated by it, you can without much difficulty
find a counterexample, opposite state of affairs or opposite
relationship (in many cases, moreover, the author himself helps
the reader). In the second part of his book, Homans
cites various studies and experiments
proving, in his view, the relevance of the assumptions of the theory of
exchange and demonstrating their usefulness for understanding of such
or other phenomena or social processes. This practical
test turns out however to be the evidence of infertility of
the conception. It shows that the theory of Homans does not meet the requirements
imposed on it by the author himself, according to whom
in explanation there "must be claims for which
acceptance or rejection empirical facts, or figures are relevant as well as
observations and evidence "(Homans, 1974b, p. 8). These, as well as the previously quoted
examples, illustrate, among others,
the fact that the theory of exchange, contrary to a well-known Popper’s criterion of science, is virtually
irrefutable, since,
as confirming it, there are
facts that are a direct negation of each other. The results of some U.S. research on
employee groups and youth groups are interpreted by Homans as
consistent with the proposition which is a consequence of the fundamental
axioms of the theory of exchange, according to which "the higher the
esteem that a specific member of the group enjoys, the more frequent
are interactions taken against him by other
members" (Homans, 1961, p. 188, 203). However, not only the reader's intuition, but the author
himself shows that a reversed relationship is possible and probable,
; often high esteem
creates between the esteemed person and the others barriers, reduces
number of contacts. Homans will therefore say, dozens of pages
further - and in accordance with the principles of the same theory, that the
respected "leader of the group tends to be very often
a lonely man. . . his followers are willing to hold
away from him" (Homans, 1961, p. 311). One of the theoretical conditions
of the proposition describing the first of these situations
is, according to Homans, an argument that "liking a person by
another changes directly depending on the frequency of their
interactions" (Homans, 1961, p. 182). But everyone could easily give
hundreds of well-known examples from everyday experience, when
such frequent contact with others does not lead to an increase of
positive feelings towards them, but resulted in indifference,
boredom, or negative emotions. Treated in the tradition of
positivism as a key differentiator and the value of scientific
claims "strict universality" in the case of the "law" above
turns out to be illusory; depending on conditions,
its inverse is met as often as itself. Similar
is the predictive value of another Homans claim,
which is to determine the relationship between the position of the individual and
the nature of interactions undertaken by the individual. Well, according to
the author of "Social...", a man demonstrates at the same time a "tendency
to interact with people of higher status, as well as tendencies to interact with people of equal status."
In order for the image to be full and the universality of the proposition complete, we may add: and also
to interact with people of lower status (explanation in the style of psychology the like of Homans could
be that it is rewarding, because it feels nice to give someone the feeling of one's superiority, to be
confirmed in the sense of superiority by appropriate behaviour of the little ones. Elsewhere Homans
concludes as follows: "explaining the behaviour of two people to each other, we need to know the
relationship between the values and one and the values of the other. Sometimes what makes the
exchange between them possible, is the difference between their values, but sometimes it is the
similarity between the values of the two people that cements their relationship. As you can clearly see,
this statement has roughly the same value as the following prediction: "it is going to rain or it is not
going to rain."
3. The theory of SOCIAL exchange and the COMMONSENSE knowledge or
every stick has two ends.
This is probably enough examples to reveal another characteristic of the "theory of social exchange."
Just ask where you might encounter a similar situation: the coexistence in perfect harmony of perfectly
contradictory claims, mutually exclusive theses? Of course, in the area of the so-called common
sense, whose characteristic feature is eclecticism, the reconciliation of the conflicting views of fact and
ideas. One of the truths of common sense will proclaim that "the absence of a loved one increases the
feeling towards the person, a proverb will be found immediately in the area of the same colloquial
reason: "out of sight, out of mind.
You can recommend as a mental puzzle, warning that the list would be a long one - to search such
proverbs and maxims of an entirely contrary sense, functioning on the basis of common thinking. This
observation of very intimate relationship of the propositions of the "theory
of exchange" with common-sense wisdom should not surprise us, both in light of Homans' own
statements, who concedes that his claims "are part of the traditional common-sense psychology," and
that therefore they would "probably not be something completely unexpected, even to prehistoric
man." According to Homans, it is precisely the advantage of his theory of exchange that, as he
believes, "people have always explained their behaviour by pointing out what it gives them, what it
costs them, on a daily basis using expressions such as: "I found this and this is good" or "I have
obtained from him a lot" or even "This conversation with him
cost me a lot " (Homans, 1975, p. 69). The program of sociology, brought down to
the level of popular consciousness, from which it is supposed to be different only by the degree of
systematization, as you can easily see, eliminates it actually as a science, for is there any need for a
science that does not go beyond the horizons of knowledge available for each layman? Is the
"discovery" of Homans solemnly uttered not a commonplace cant, that "the rivalry between groups
generally increases the hostility expressed by the members of one group against members of the
other group" (Homans, 1961, p. 144)? What, beyond a quasi-scientific way of expression, does
represent another "theorem", according to which "after a break in their interactions, the man who will
emit the first action of the new series will be the one who recognizes the action of the other to be more
valuable" ( Homans, 1961, p. 201) .
Homans' book is full of similar truths, sometimes as trivial,
as this candidate to the title of the "law of science": "out of two people
more or less similar in other respects, the person
who receives more of some specific reward, is the person
more pleased from both of them" (Homans, 1961, p. 269). Or take another example: „A person with a
low position does not have many friends, or a lot of enemies, whereas a person of high position has
both many friends and many enemies "(Homans, 1961, p. 307).
Contrary to appearances, the above "word of wisdom" is not a quote from another book of folk
but from a scientific work. We therefore have every right
to call Homans sociology a "vulgar sociology"
by analogy to the" vulgar economy" whose
characteristic feature according to Marx was that it amounts to an exercise in thinking in which surface
appearances are mistaken for underlying social reality.
As clearly shown by the "theory of social exchange", knowledge provided
by it not only remains within the confines of
pre-scientific, everyday thinking, but it is not even
able to reproduce it in full shape, to render the real
scope of human knowledge about society, not located
in a few shallow statements raised by
the "vulgar sociologist" to the dignity of a science. As is apparent from
the above quotations, and from what we shall document more fully now,
the theory of exchange grabs only a narrow aspect
of experiences of human behaviour in society, associated with interpretation of their cost-benefit
considerations. A set of these
"economic" terms is introduced by Homans on the occasion of
discussion of the fifth proposition of his theory, adapting
for it the concepts developed previously in the analysis of the experiment
with the pigeon. "Cost" is defined by Homans as the value of lost
reward, which "could be brought by the implementation of an alternative behaviour
to the one already taken (the pigeon,
pecking, is running the risk of fatigue and loses the reward (no penalty is, according to Homans also a
reward), consisting in its avoidance; the decision to choose one of two offered propositions "costs" me
losing the rewards associated with the position which I give up). The difference between the reward
obtained and the cost of its receipt Homans calls "profit" and puts forward as a thesis of his theory a
statement that "no exchange will last if both parties do not reach the profit in it" (Homans, 1961, p. 61).
Finally, he formulates the idea of "distributive justice", according to which in each exchange there must
be a rule of proportionality of cost and rewards, i.e. the proportionality of investment to global profits.
"Investments" are certain characteristics of an individual, authorizing him to a greater or lesser share
in the total pool of rewards, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of the partner (eg age, sex). Let us
even dispense the very unlucky choice of the term "investment" wiping out the difference between,
using the terminology of the long-term adversary of the author of the theory of exchange, the features
ascribed and achieved, with which logic would rather order to combine the notion of investment.
It is more difficult to refrain from the comment that the fact why such an "investment"
as a specific skin color is on an "interactive market"
of a society valued higher or lower, based on the
Homans assumptions is impossible to understand, the cause of this state of affairs we return to below.
In essence, for Homans, social behaviour is an exchange of material and nonmaterial (e.g.,
symbols of approval and prestige) goods. For a person engaged in exchange, what she gives
may be a cost to her, just as what she gets may be a reward, and her behaviour is apt to
change less as profit, that is, reward less cost, increases. In other words, the more she gets,
the less valuable any further unit of that value is to her, and the less often she will emit
behaviour reinforced by it. The cost, or the reward forgone, and the value of what she gives
and of what she gets vary with the quantity of what she gives and gets. But persons involved
in an exchange relationship also expect to receive as much reward from the other as they give
to the other. That is to say, they expect there to be a fairly equitable exchange of rewards and
costs between persons. George C. Homans calls this the rule of distributive justice and
describes it as follows:
A man in an exchange relation w ith another w ill expect that the rewards of each man be
proportional to his coststhe greater the rewards, the greater the costsand that the net
rewards, or profits, of each man be proportional to his investmentsthe greater the
investments, the greater the profit. (Homans 1961: 75)
From these five general propositions of the elementary forms of social behaviour, Homans
endeavoured to explain a wide range of phenomena from conformity to competition, from
status to satisfactionand more generally, and for many sociologists more significantly, the
emergence and maintenance of social structures.
A few years after the publication of Social Behaviour, George C. Homans candidly admitted
that he was not wholly satisfied with the clarity of the exposition of the book’s thesis. Indeed,
despite his uncommon ability for clear and lucid writing, his propositions in Social Behaviour
are stated in a rather turgid prose that makes them ponderous reading. He also admitted that
he had “handled rather clumsily” (1968: 5), the topics of status and power. So, in 1974 he
produced a revised edition of Social Behaviour in which he keeps much of the substance of
his main argument but tightens up the argument to make it more lucid and logical. He also
adds an entire chapter on power and uses payoff matrices of the sort developed by social
psychologists John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley in their The Social Psychology of
Groups (1959) to illustrate how power works. Additionally, Homans restates his general
propositions adding also The Aggression-Approval Proposition: Part a: When a person’s
action does not receive the reward he expected, or receives punishment he did not expect, he
will be angry; he becomes more likely to perform aggressive behaviour, and the results of
such behaviour become more valuable to him (Homans 1974: 37).
Part b: When a person’s action receives reward he expected, especially a greater reward then
he expected, or does not receive punishment he expected, he will be pleased; he becomes
more likely to perform approving behaviour, and the results of such behaviour become more
valuable to him (Homans 1974: 39).
The Rationality Proposition: I n choosing between alternative actions, a person will choose
that one for which, as perceived by him at the time, the value, V, of the result, multiplied
by the probability, p, of getting the result, is the greater (Homans 1974: 43).
Before, however, presenting the next and the last, for that matter, Homans’ proposition associated with
the aforementioned notion of distributive justice, let us put forward a couple of comments regarding
a broader issue of the relation of the author o f „Social Be haviour” to economics.
The American sociologist boaststhat his, as he himself c alls it, economic approach’ is one, which
could bring closer the two social sciences in question,
the key proof of this closeness being the fundamental premise of Homans’ approach, with all its
theoretical and methodological implications. Homans, namely, reckons that both disciplines deal
with goods in terms of rewards, the difference being that economics focuses on material rewards,
whereas ‘the general theory of exchange’ lacks any such limitations.
The basic fact that the two disciplines have so much in common implies, among other things, a
number of analogies between the economic laws and their equivalents formulated on the grounds
of the theory of social exchange.
Thus, Law Of Supply, i.e. A microeconomic law stating that, all other factors being equal, as the price of a good
or service increases, the quantity of goods or services offered by suppliers increases and vice versa is, according
to Homans, equivalent to the proposition that the greater the value of reward acquired thanks to a given action,
the more frequently it will be performed. In turn, another microeconomic law that states that, all other factors
being equal, as the price of a good or service increases, consumer demand for the good or service will decrease
and vice versa, i.e. Law Of Demand is allegedly analogous to the following thesis: the greater the cost
implied by an action, the rarer it will be taken(Homans, 1961, p. 69).
It appears that in a later period Homans has modified his view as to the interelations of h is theory of exchange
and economics, putting stronger emphasis on the greater generality, and thus superiority of the former. The
above-mentioned laws of supply and demand are, according to this new approach, not to be treated as
„equivalents in the field of social sciences, (Homans, 1974a, p. 77), but as consequences of general laws
of behavioural psychology, which constitute the general explanatory premises in the realm of human
behaviour. That is another way of saying that all social sciences are provided with the most general
propositions used in explaining their respective phenomena of interest by only one amongst these
sciences, i. e. psychology(Homans, 1974b, p. 70).
This degradation of economics from the role of a theoretic source to that of science essentially
reducible to others clearly brings out the spurious from the beginning character of Homans’ attempt
to make the categories and claims of economics an integral part of any social research, thereby
recognising the relevance of the economy as a factor shaping the social life.
Even apart of any assessment of the value of the kind of economics, which constitutes an inspiration
for Homans3, it is difficult to imagine the worse way of establishing the relationships of the
economic structure to non-economic realm of social life. The thesis, which from the standpoint of
the present author proclaims the role of the economy as conditioning the whole of social life, which
economy, contrary to Homans, does not boil down to the market, the relations of exchange, but
includes at the very least the relations of production and property relations has nothing in common
with any attempt to reduce these non-economic phenomena and processes to the economic ones,
or with a mechanistic application of economic categories to non-economic structures. This kind of
what deserves to be dubbed: ‘economic imperialism’ obscures the boundaries between what
constitutes the economic structure and what does not.
It is hard to imagine more mistaken proof of the primacy of the economy in social life.
Treating all social relations in the likeness of an exchange makes it difficult, if not impossible to
empirically investigate various ways in which the economic structure affects the non-economic
3 It is the subjectivistic direction whose connection with the vulgar economics is apparent, as Oscar
Lange, among others, has remarked.
structures, transforms the issue of the relationships of the two domains into a semantic problem,
one of applying to non-economic phenomena one or other economic label.
To the theory of social exchange the following criticism put forward by Lenin
can be, therefor, applied: It need hardly be said that all this play with biology and
sociology contains not a grain of Marxism. Both in Spencer and Mikhailovsky one may
find any number of definitions not a whit worse than this, defining nothing but the “good
intentions of the author and betraying a complete lack of understanding of “what is
idealism” and what materialism.
The author begins Book III o f Empirio-Monism, the article “Social Selection
(Foundations of Method),” 1906, by refuting the “eclectic socio -biological attempts of
Lange, Ferri, Woltmann and many others (p. 1), and on page 15 we find the following
conclusion of the “enquiry”: “We can for mulate the fundamental connection between
energetics and social selection as follows:
Every act of social selection represents an increase or decrease of the energy of the
social complex concerned. In the former case we have ‘positive selection,’ in the latter
‘negative selection.’” (Author’s italics.)
And such unutterable trash is served out as Marxism! Can one imagine anything more
sterile, lifeless and scholastic than this string of biological and energeticist terms that
contribute nothing, and can contribute nothing, in the sphere of the social sciences?
There is not a shadow of concrete economic enquiry here, not a hint of the Marxist
method, the method of dialectics and the world outlook of materialism, only a mere
invention of definitions and attempts to fit them into the ready-made conclusions of
Marxism. “The rapid growth of the productive forces of capitalist s ociety is undoubtedly
an increase in the energy of the social whole. . . .” The s econd half of the phrase is
undoubtedly a simple repetition of the first half expressed in meaningless terms which
seem to lend “profundity” to the question, but which in reality in no way differ from the
eclectic biologico-sociological attempts of Lange and Co.!—“but the disharmonious
character of this process leads to its culmination in a crisis, in a vast waste of productive
forces, in a sharp decrease of energy: positive selection is replaced by negative
selection” (p. 18).
In what way does this differ from Lange? A biologico-energeticist label is tacked on
to ready-made conclusions on the subject of crises, without any concrete material
whatever being added and without the nature of crises being elucidated. All this is done
with the very best intentions, for the author wishes to corroborate and give greater depth
to Marxs conclus ions; but in point of fact he only dilutes them with an intolerably
dreary and lifeless s cholasticism. The only “Mar xismhere is a repetition of an already
known conclusion, and all the “new” proof of it, a ll this social energetics(p. 34) and
“social selection” is but a mere collection of words and a sheer mockery of Marxism.
Bogdanov is not engaged in a Marxist enquiry at all; all he is doing is to reclothe
results already obtained by the Marxist enquiry in a biological and energeticist
terminology. The whole attempt is worthless from beginning to end, for the concepts
“selection,” “ass imilation and dissimilation” of energy, the energetic balance, and so
forth, are, when applied to the sphere of the social sciences, but empty phrases. In fact,
an enquiry into social phenomena and an elucidation of the method of the social sciences
cannot be undertaken with the aid of these concepts. Nothing is easier than to tack the
labels of “energetics or “biologico-sociology” on to such phenomena as crises ,
revolutions, the class struggle and so forth; but neither is there anything more sterile,
more scholastic and lifeless than such an occupation. The important thing is not that
Bogdanov tries to fit all his results and conclusions into the Marxist theory—or “nearly”
all (we have s een the “correction” he made on the subject of the relation of social being
to social consciousness)but that the methods of fitting—this “social energetics”—are
thoroughly false and in no way differ from the methods of Lange”( 1908).
1. Let us , finally, cite Homans’ proposition No. 5, associated with his socio-economic rule of
distributive justice. The proposition in question holds that The more to a man’s
disadvantage the rule of distributive justice fails of realization, the more likely he is to
display the emotional behaviour we call anger (Homans 1961:75).
Again, it is impossible to determine whether the rule of distributive justice holds in practice, or establish
the point in which it is violated, since any proportions between rewards, punishments, costs, profits
and investments cannot be, natrally, calculated.
Even more important question concerns the genessis of this sentiment of distributive justice felt by any
participants of any exchange, i.e. all interactions, since each one of these is, as has been noted,
treated preciseley as an exchange. Because any other answer to this question is not given, one
must surmise that the rule in question is hard-wired, so to speak, is coded in genes, constitutes an
aspect of human nature. It is apparent that the set of propositions put forward by the author of the
theory of social exchange must imply a conception in that matter. Even in the absence of an in-
depth analysis of the content of the above-mentioned statements, one can easily ascertain that
these are drawn on the well-known doctrines of utilitarianism and hedonism.
To conveince oneself about that, suffice it to remind the basic assumptions of what constitutes the
third amongst those mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, source of the theory of social
They state, firstly, that all people are by nature similar, secondly, that they all also by nature strive to
achieve where their self-interest lies, i.e.
And, indeed, the human being as conceived OF by Homans is an egoistic creature, whose goals
involve b oth maximisation of profit of one’s own, and assuring that anyone in his or her peer group
did not achieve profits greater than herself or himself (Homans,1975, p. 119]. In other words, she
or he oriented on maximising the balance: pleasure or profit :pain or cost, just in utilitarianism
It Is assumed that people are driven by an aim of maximizing utility and hedoniz
minimizing negative utility (utility can be defined as pleasure minus pain).
What is more, The content of Homans’ concept of man leads to the conclusion that this, in Homans’
intention, the notion of the human nature in general refers in fact to people of a definite historical
period, i.e. the capitalist system as based on the most developed form of the commodity-money
economy. This is yet another confirmation ofHomans’ ahistorism, to which we have referred
already above.
In Homans’ theory The king o f early feudalism transforms himself intosomeone in the likeness of the
modern capitalist entepreneur. Just as a contemporary ‘industri al baron’ he has capital at his
disposal, makes various ‘investments’, which can pay off or not(Homans, 1961, p. 380-8).
At the same time the above criticism calls into question Homa ns’ claims as regards universalism of the
theory of social exchange, whose propositions are validd everywhere, and in the relation to all
people”(1961, p. 317).
It is, in his view, the case, because „the features of elementary social behaviour are shared by all
humanity”(Homans, 1961, p. 6), which circumstance stems from the existence of shared by all human
beings human nature; Homans, for instance, reckons that „the human nature is the only true cultu ral
universal”(Homans, 1961, p. 317].
Homans is a committed proponent of methodological individualism. Asregards his laws of social exchange , he
says: "they are propositions about the behavior of individual human beings, rather than propositions about
groups or societies." It is for this reason, for instance, that Homans disagreed with some key ingredients of
Emilie Durkheim's work. For example, Durkheim believed that although individuals are clearly the
component parts of society, society is more than the individuals who constitute it.[4] He believed that society
could be studied without reducing it to individuals and their motivations.[4] However, Homans, through his
Exchange Theory, believed that individual beings and behavior are re levant to understanding society.
While being confident that it is direct interpersonal relationships that constitute the basic building
blocks of society, Homans was, of course, aware of the fact in society not only such relations exist.
Is it, however, possible to consider and explain these macrostructural, as opposed to
microstructural phenomena on the basis of the theory of social exchange?
So far, we have dealt with what Homans calls elementary or subinstitutional social behaviour. He
distingueshes it from types of behaviour taking place at an institutional level, e.e. determined by
various official norms, formal rules, and generally -
Any socially fixed and transferred historically patterrns (an i nstitution in Homans’ view is both
‘bureaucracy’ and the ‘ role of the physician). What precisely di ffers th e tw o level of behaviour, isn’t
entirely clear. As two basic criteria Homans mentions the fact that at the formal level rewards and
punishments have more complex and indirect character(for example, a worker in a firm obtains her
or his wages not fron her or his direct overseer, i.e. a foreman, but from the hands of an official ,
i.e. a cashier), and, secondly, that the said rewards are so-call ed ‘generalised reinforcements’ such
as money or social approval, which are applicable in a host of variegated social situations, as
distinct from primitive reinforcements referring to certain kinds of behaviour. Let us put aside by any
means self-evident question of whether all extrainteractional relationships can be coverd by the
concept o f ‘institutional’ behaviour, and let us deal rather with the question of how the interrelations
of the two spheres distinguished are conceived.
Let us remind ourselves that in the theory of social exchange elementary social behaviour signifies
ipso facto one which is basic and fundamental. By the same token Homans reckons that
one(institutional) type of behaviour always stems from the other(substitutional)”, and the
differences between them are merely differences of degree”[Homans, 1961, p. 380].
The above cited claims are in keeping with Homans’ general position, which the American sociologist
himself describes as ‘psychological reductionism’. In his own words it consists in the belief that as
the ultimate elements of social behaviour are humans and their activities,the general propositions
used for an expalnation of social behaviour must refer to individuals and their behaviour, and thus
they must be psychological propositions”, it means that sociology is derivative of psychologyat
least in the sense that social phenomena require for their explanation psychological propositions
”[Homans, 1974a, p.80-1] ].
Homans’ argument is a typical example of paralogism; from th e fact that society consists of individuals
and their actions, it by no means follows that the patterns and regularities of its functioning and
development are laws of individual behaviour, or, rather, dyadic one, since, as has been outlined
above, the fundamental unit of society is for Homans an interaction of two persons.
Small wonder, therefore, that Homansattempts at the derivation of these or other macrostructures or
phenomena must end in failure.
The principles of the theory of exchange are extended by their author to include, among others, social
differentiation. Homans introduces to that end the concept of social status: as a general rule, it
seems that people will perceive a given person as one of higher status than another one, if in the
course of an exchange she or he gives more of a good, which is scarce relative to demand, and
can be perceived as such,
- obtains, however, more of a good, which is relatively abundant. And on the reverse, they perceive a
given person as one of lower status, if he/she obtains more of a scarce good, and gives greater
quantity of an abundant good”.
It is, then, basically subjective theory of social differentiation; objective considerations, which are
mentioned in Homans’ definition are relevant as a determinant of a position, only when they are
seen are such. That it is awareness that underlies the notion of social status, is still more apparent
in its definition given in the first edition of the book as this, which people perceive about one of
their peers.
Stimuli comprising a status of an individual involve kinds of rewards received..., kinds of behaviour
emitted...granted that these stimuli are recognised and distinguished by other people ... Status is a
matter of awareness, which stimuli will be crucial as d efining an individual’s status , depens on
what relationships between various forms of her/his behaviour her or his partners has become
aware of. For example, says Homans, the fact that someone receives higher salary than someone
else, does not per se give him/her higher status; it will happen only as far this fact will be registered
in the consciousness of the members of a group to which a given individual belongs. Homans
reckons that the category of status so construed serves as an instrument of studying not only small
groups, but also as a source of an analysis of stratification of broader society, for if „status of
individuals in every stratified society, regardless of the fact whether it is inherited or achieved, is
chiefly determined by their occupation in the broadest sense of the word, and an income earned
thanks to this occupation, then [in his opinion note: J. T. ]it means that status in society as a
whole, like in small groups is earned or recognised by what people give and get in social
exchange... the phenomena of stratification in small groups are so similar to thhis how these
phenomena look like in global societies, that in both cases they must have been generated by the
same processes(Homans, 1974b, p. 307-8).
The consequence of this theory of social stratification, and at the same time proof of its subjectivist
nature is an inability of an identification of particular strata, or, how Homans himself calls them,
‘classes’. The author of „Behaviour as Social Exchange”
Autor „Social Beha vior” uses, in order to outline the character of social divisions as viewed by his
theory, the telling metaphor of the spectre of colours within which higher bands such as purple
then the next one, a little lower, e.g. the red one, etc. Could be recognised, but in which the
interstice between the colours would be continous, and any other, but only an arbitrary line of
partition could determine, where crimson has ended, and where redness has begun(Homans,
1974b, p. 309).
In another, this time not taking advantage of metaphors, statement Homans maintains that from the
standpoint of his conception attribution of individuals to particular classes cannot be nothing else
as an arbitrary thing; it would be perfectly right to call a member of the upper clas a member of the
middle class(Homans, 1974b, p. 310).
It is thus evident that any sociologist, who would be interested in an objective investigation of social
structures, should not look to Homans for inspiration. Classes’ as conceived by Homans have little
in common with the classic theoris of social differentiation, such as those by Marx or Weber. With
all their differences, they both shared an interest in the property relations. Homans, on the other
hand, social activities determined by property are beyond the confines of the theory of social
exchange; treating as two main determinants of ‘status’ occupation as what is given, and income
as what is received, it leaves out of picturethe phenomena, which, like private ownership of the
means of production, make it possible to acquire the means of livelihood without an equivalent in
the form of one’s own work, which do not enter, say, an exchange of the labour power in return of
wages, but constitute its underlying premise.
In line with his subjective viewpoint, Homans takes also issue with Marxian political economy. For
instance, he considers Marx’s theory of the surplus value to be a groundless speculation, treating
its recognition as a ‘matter of taste’: when someone says that one group exploits another, all that
his/her words mean is that he or she does not personally accepts the way in which the rewards
are distributed between these two groups”(Homans, 1974b, p. 251).
Homans’ ‘interactional reductionism’, as it can be termed, is also apparent in his theory of power. He
defines power as follows: „when the total reward of a person A, associated with taking action which
rewards the person B is lower at least in B’s perception than the total reward of B linked to the
performance of action, which rewards A, and as a result B alters his/her beehaviour in a way
advantageuous to A, then A exercises power over B(Homans, 1974b, p. 83). . Zdaniem Homansa,.
This definition involves bothcases of power not based on coercion, where no penalties are
deployed (a person who does care about the reward provided by another one less than vice versa,
has, thanks to this, power over her), and instances of power dependent on the means of violence
(it is in this context as well that the above principle of smaller interest’ holds, an universal, in
Homans’ view, base of power: a bandit, for example, enjoys an unique capability of rewarding
actions, as he is able to mete out capital punishment, and punishment issimply, as is well-known, a
negative reward.He has the power of forcing his victim to give him all her money, his profit is,
however, relatively less compared to the benefit enjoyed by his partner in this peculiar exchange.
Homans, for better or worse, goes, however, even further than that. He juxtaposes two situations: „We
can watch the case of power exercised by the leader of a small group over his supporters. We can
also observe power exercised by the president of the U.S, who commands his soldiers to fight in
Vietnam(Homans, 1971, p.371). Wychodząc z
Homans’ assumption that mechanisms of beehaviour of people at the level of interpersonal relations
and in big organisations are the same, are identical”, is concretised in the form of the contention
that psychological mechanisms, which produce power in both cases are the same”.From the
foregoing the author of the theory of social exchange concludes that power does not rely on
specific rewards and punishments pertaining to human activities, it is based on the fact of
functioning of rewards and punishments alone(Homans , 1971, p. 371).
On the grounds o f Homans’ approach the same kind and degree of power is exercised by the father
over his children, by the teacher over her pupils, by the capitalist over the workers, and the state
over its citizens.
What is allege here is an identity of processes relevant for the entire nations with ones played out at
the level of interpersonal relations only, and relevant exclusively for participants of these relations.
State power is at the same footing as parental authority, power of the three-star general is equated
with short-lived power exercised by the leader of a peer groupwagi ng a ‘war’ with another one.
Such an approach, of course, effectively blocks any understanding of the real roots of power as a
macrosocial phenomenon. This is a consequence of the more general fact: an inability to grasp
macrostructures by means of the conceptual instruments worked out at the level of direct
interpersonal relations.
One cannot agree more with Talcott Parsons’ opinion according to which as yet „Homans has not
shown how his principles can account for the basic structural features of large social
systems(1971, p. 34). This inability is written intofundamental premises of Homans’ theoretical
position; psychological propositions proposed by him as an universal explanatory instrument refer
to what people have in common, they cannot illuminate the differences between societies(Blau,
1970, p. 337) , those various forms and products of social life that the humanity has generated
throughout its longtime the history.
The above discussed partial and unsuccesful attempts to go beyond the vicious circle by means of the
categories of the theory of exchange indirectly point to the fallacy of its point of departure, which,
therefor, must be turn over its head: not only to comprehend society through the microscopic prism
of ‘elementary relations’ is not possible, but much of what happens inside small groups cannot be
understood without taking account of the broader societal context. This, of course, applies also to
such phenomena the theory of exchange is dealing with.
Can, for instance, the presence in the social life of even many highly developed nations of a host of
informal exchanges of various services, not excluding goods be explained on the basis of the
individual traits of the participants of those transactions, or, rather, the concrete socio-economic,
but also political and legal situation of a given society sh
When Homans says thatthe secret of society consists in the circumstance that it is a human creation”, he
formulates undisputable truth, which could be called into question perhaps only by the believers in certain form
of s ociological deism. There is more to that, however. The author of „Social Behavior”. Puts forward the related
claim, which is only seemingly true: „There is nothing in society, which has not been contributed by
humans ”(Homans , 1961, p. 385), for it negates the autonomy of s ociety, or, mo re broadly, any s upraindividual
structures. Following in his footsteps other representatives of the strand of rational choice reject an autonomy or
the fact of restraints impos ed on human action by the social structures”(Scott, 2000). Meanwhile, the fact that
social structures consist mostly, albeit not exclusively of human individuals does not mean that the former could
be reduced to the latter, for structures are not simply aggregates or collections of elements, but precisely
structures, i.e. sets of not only elements per se, but also relationships between those, which fact gives birth to
various, to use a popular buzzword, synergies, or, more simply, emergent structural effects that underlie the
relative autonomy of the social wholes in relation to their components, which can be also rendered as possession
of novel characteristics that are not present at the level of the ingredients. This fact cannot be recognised by the
proponents of methodological individualism, whoAS THE SAYING GOES, see NO WOOD BEHIND THE
In the light of the above analysis Homans’ theory of social exchange cannot be sustained. Although Homans
claims to be a scientist in the full sense of the w ord, his theory cannot be regarded as science. For this to
happen, its author would have to avoid many logical and substantive fallacies, while in fact he is involved
in many of these. Thus, his approach implies vicious circles in reasoning, tautologies, vague concepts, the
upshot being that his theory turns out to be difficult, if not impossible to falsify. In the light of Popper’s
well-known criterion, therefore, his approach cannot be termed scientific, Homans’ claims
notwithstanding. From a sociological point of view, certain further features of Homans’ approach appear
unacceptable, e.g. his methodological individualism or interactionism or psychologism. Contrary to
Homans, not only societal macrostructures cannot be scientifically investigated on the basis of the
phenomena occurring at the microlevel, but in actual fact the latter cannot be explained without taking
into consideration their broader societal context. With this we come full circle, since Homans, owing to his
microstructural bias does not dispose of any adequate theory of society at large.
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