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George C. Homans. Born in Boston, Massachusetts August 11, 1910 Homans entered Harvard College in 1928 with an area of concentration in English and American literature. In the 1930s he attended a faculty-student seminar at Harvard with Pareto.

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george c homans
George C. Homans
  • Born in Boston, Massachusetts

August 11, 1910

  • Homans entered Harvard College in 1928 with

an area of concentration in English and

American literature.

  • In the 1930s he attended a faculty-student

seminar at Harvard with Pareto.

  • In 1939 he became a Harvard faculty member,

a lifelong affiliation in which he taught both

sociology and medieval history.

  • In 1964 Homans was elected President of the

American Sociological Association.

homans continued
Homans continued…
  • Homans’s work is divided into two phases
    • The first phase is considered inductive and the second phase is considered deductive.
  • Credited as the founder of behavioral sociology and the social exchange theory.
  • Other social exchange theorists: John Thibaut, Harold Kelley, Peter Blau.
  • Died in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 29, 1989.
  • English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (1941)
  • The Human Group (1950)
  • Social Behavior as Exchange (1958)
  • Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (1961, revised 1974)
  • Coming to My Sense: The Autobiography of a Sociologist (1984)
link to behavioral psychology
Link to Behavioral Psychology
  • Operant conditioning: the use of consequences

to modify the occurrence and form of behavior.

- Skinner and the pigeon experiment

  • “This kind of psychologist is not interested

in how the behavior was learned: ‘learning

theory’ is a poor name for his [Skinner’s] field.

Instead, he is interested in what determines the rate of emission

of learned behavior, whether pecks at a target or something else.”



operant conditioning
Operant Conditioning
  • Satiation: the rate of behavior falls off if the behavior is often reinforced.
    • When the pigeon is given much more corn each time it pecks, the less hungry it will become and the less it pecks.
  • Extinction: the rate of emission of behavior stops when it is not reinforced.
    • If the pecking is not reinforced with corn, eventually the pigeon will stop pecking.
  • Cost: aversive stimulation, results in a decrease in the emission of behavior.
    • Fatigue is an example of a “cost.”
    • Other examples: A Clockwork Orange, treatment for alcoholism
an exchange paradigm
An Exchange Paradigm
  • Homans notes that Skinner’s pigeon experiment cannot really be an exchange since the behavior of the pigeon hardly determines the behavior the psychologist.
  • In the case of two men, however, where exchange is real and determination is equal, “each is emitting behavior reinforced to some degree by the behavior of the other.”
    • Smiling, nodding, furrowing of the brow, etc.
    • Talk show hosts
  • NOTE: The concern is not how each learned in the past the behavior he emits or the behavior he finds reinforcing.
  • Values: reinforcers; that which strengthens a response.
  • “As he emits behavior, each man may incur costs, and each man has more than one course of behavior open to him.”
an exchange paradigm7
An Exchange Paradigm

“The problem is not, as it is often stated, merely, what a man’s values are, what he has learned in the past to find reinforcing, but how much of any one value his behavior is getting him now.”

- Homans

the influence process
The Influence Process
  • Cohesiveness: anything that attracts people to take part in a group.
  • Two kinds of reinforcing activity: “social approval” and activity valuable in other ways, such as doing something interesting (Festinger).
  • Communication/Interaction: measure of the frequency of emission of valuable and costly verbal behavior.
the influence process9
The Influence Process
  • The more cohesive a group is, the more valuable the social approval or activity the members exchange with one another and the greater the average frequency of interaction the members.
  • Question: What is an example of a group that’s cohesiveness is proportionate to the social approval and activities members exchange with each other?
the influence process10
The Influence Process
  • Conformer: people whose activity the other group members find valuable.
    • Since members are satiated by the conformer’s behavior, interaction with him/her is less.
  • Deviates: a member whose activity is not particularly valuable.
    • Interaction with a deviant is high in order to increase the cohesiveness of the group. However, if the deviate fails to change his behavior and subsequently reinforce the other members, they start to withhold social approval from him/her.
practical equilibrium
Practical Equilibrium

“…We sometimes observe [equilibrium], that for the time we are with a group-and it is often short-there is no great change in the values of the variables we choose to measure.”

practical equilibrium12
Practical Equilibrium
  • The more closely a member’s activity conforms to the norms of the group, the more interaction and liking choices he gets from them too.
  • Other variables affect the relationship between liking and conformity. For instance, if the person who conforms the most also exerts some authority over the group, members may like this person less than might have otherwise.
“An incidental advantage of an exchange theory is that it might bring sociology closer to economics-that science of man most advanced, most capable of application, and, intellectually, most isolated. Economics studies exchange carried out under special circumstances and with a most useful built-in numerical measure of value.”


Discussion: Address the critique that Homans’ social exchange theory reduces human interaction to a purely rational process that arises from economic theory.

social behavior as exchange 1958 profit and social control
Social Behavior as Exchange (1958)Profit and Social Control
  • Less valuable actions by an individual member lead to less value reinforcement from other members.
  • Less valuable actions, however, mean a reduction in costs which off set the loss in sentiment (reinforcement).
profit and social control cont
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Problem of social control
    • So, why does every member’s behavior persist?
  • If this were true behaviors would not stabilize
  • People stabilize their behavior at the point where they are doing the best they can for themselves under the circumstances.
    • Their actions may not be the “rational” best
    • Homans support for this theory: lack of another answer
profit and social control cont16
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Supportive Experiment: H.B. Gerard “The Anchorage of Opinions in Face–to–Face Groups”
profit and social control cont17
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Formed artificial groups to discuss a topic and to express their opinions about the outcome of the discussion.
  • Types of groups:
    • High-attraction: people would like one another
    • Low-attraction: people would not like one another
  • Measured opinions during and after discussion looking at the number of subjects who changed their opinions to meet those of the group majority or a paid participant.
profit and social control cont18
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Percentage of subjects changing toward someone in the group
  • Percentage of subjects changing toward the paid participant
profit and social control cont19
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Gerard found more shifting of opinions toward the group majority, and less shifting of opinions toward the paid participant in the high-attraction group as compared to the low-attraction group?
  • Question: Based on Homan’s notions of value and reinforcement, how would you explain this outcome?
profit and social control cont20
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • If you think that members of a group have much to give you – in this case, acceptance – you are more apt to give them much in return – here, a change in opinion. Otherwise you will not receive the reward.
  • If you feel the group has little to offer you, you will give it little value and will not be willing to sacrifice much cost.
profit and social control cont21
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Homans’s explanation:
  • Participants expected 2 different types of reinforcement from their group:
    • acceptance: from their agreement with the group
    • “maintenance of one’s personal integrity”: from sticking to their own opinion when in opposition to most of the group
profit and social control cont22
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Participants assign value to each type of reinforcement
    • Those in the high-attraction group assign a higher value to acceptance.
    • Value for “maintenance of personal integrity” depends on the subject’s original position in relation to the other’s in the group
profit and social control cont23
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Rewards are in competition with one another – rewards are alternatives to each other.
  • Profit = Rewards – Cost
    • The cost of a particular action is the equivalent to the foregone value of the alternative reward.
profit and social control cont24
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • High-Attraction group:
    • Agreement subjects: they get much in acceptance and has to sacrifice little of personal integrity. Therefore, they have a high profit and re not likely to change their opinion
    • Strong disagreement subjects: get much reward for maintaining their personal integrity, but they also have to sacrifice much in group acceptance. Therefore they have low profit and are more likely to change their opinion.
profit and social control cont25
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Low Attraction group:
    • Mild disagreement subjects: receive little reward for maintenance of personal integrity, but have little cost in acceptance either. Therefore, their profit is low, and they are likely to change their opinion.
    • Strong disagreement – high reward for maintenance of personal integrity and low cost for acceptance. Therefore, they have a high profit and are not likely to change their opinion.
profit and social control cont26
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Thus, change in behavior is greatest when one’s perceived profit is the least.
  • When a person reaches their highest profit – i.e. does the best they can in a given situation - behavior is least likely to change and it becomes stabilized.
profit and social control cont27
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • In a social group or organization, an individuals profit is partly at the mercy of others. Thus, an individual’s profit may not be as high in a group it they would be individually.
profit and social control cont28
Profit and Social Control cont.
  • Given the Homans’s explanation that profit = reward – cost, and his ideas about social control, do you accept his theory that an individual’s behavior stabilizes when people do the best they can? Can you think of any examples that would either support or contradict his ideas? Do you see any limitations in his theory?
social behavior as exchange 1958 distributive justice
Social Behavior as Exchange (1958)Distributive Justice
  • Practical equilibrium is more probable than the individual pursuit of profit left to itself.
  • An Example of this is behaviors of subgroups.
    • 2 groups working together: the group who has more responsibility (more pressure, larger stakes) demands more pay than the other group
    • This is not a dispute over absolute wages, but over wage differentials.
distributive justice cont
Distributive Justice cont.
  • Wage and responsibility provide status within the group
    • Known as status factors
  • When status factors are in line there is status congruence
    • Leads workers to not complain about their position relative to other workers
  • Pay is the reward
  • Responsibility (foregone peace of mind) is the cost
distributive justice cont31
Distributive Justice cont.
  • Distributive justice claims that if the costs of on person is higher than another, the rewards shall be higher as well.
    • The inverse of this theory should also be true and is known as noblesse oblige.
distributive justice cont32
Distributive Justice cont.
  • Profit = Reward – Cost
    • Pay is the reward
    • Responsibility (foregone peace of mind) is the cost
  • Though the reward and cost are different, profit should be the same
  • Distributive justice is one condition of group equilibrium.
distributive justice cont33
Distributive Justice cont.
  • Do you believe that Homans’s theory of distributive justice is a reasonable account of how social equilibrium is achieve in society? What problems or limitations could arise in this theory?
social behavior as exchange 1958 exchange and social structure
Social Behavior as Exchange (1958)Exchange and Social Structure
  • Example of Social Structure:
    • Agents of an investigative firm have the duty to prepare reports for the law. Reports have to be prepared carefully, in proper form and agents have to take strict account of any regulations. Agent are reluctant to ask their supervisors questions believing it would reflect negatively on their ability to do their job. Instead, they seek assistance from other agents.
exchange and social structure cont
Exchange and Social Structure cont.
  • Because of the amount of consultations between agents, the value of any one consultation becomes deflated and the cost of the many interruptions becomes inflated
    • The more prestigious agents have more consultations relative to other agents. Thus their prestige was given less value and their interruptions were more costly. For less prestigious agents, a feeling of inferiority was more costly.
exchange and social structure cont36
Exchange and Social Structure cont.
  • The result: More equal exchanges between agents.
    • More prestigious agents consulted less often with other highly competent agents
    • Less prestigious agents interacted more often with other agents at their same level
exchange and social structure cont37
Exchange and Social Structure cont.
  • Rewards = advice
  • Cost = time lost because of interruptions, feelings of inferiority.
    • More prestigious agents sacrificed less cost with less interaction among other highly prestigious agents.
    • Less prestigious agents had less feelings of inferiority by interacting with other agents at their same level.
exchange and social structure cont38
Exchange and Social Structure cont.
  • This theory illustrates how social structures in equilibrium might be the result of a process of exchanging behavior rewarding and costly in different degrees, in which, the increment of reward and cost varied with the frequency of the behavior – i.e. with the frequency of the interaction.
exchange and social structure cont39
Exchange and Social Structure cont.
  • Can you think of any other examples of how social interactions have lead to the establishment of social structures? How have these examples influenced the social equilibrium?
mancur olson
Born 1932 Died 1998

A leading American economist and social scientist

He made contributions to institutional economics on the role of private property, taxation, public goods, collective action, and contract rights in economic development.

Mancur Olson
In his first book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, he said that only a benefit reserved strictly for group members will motivate one to join and contribute to the group. This means that individuals will act collectively to provide private goods, but not public goods.
collective action
Collective Action
  • His most famous contribution is the idea of collective action.
  • Collective action is the pursuit of a goal or set of goals by more than one person.
  • The premise of this theory was that the rational person would not participate in collective action because its benefits could not be mutually exclusive.
Mancur Olson made the highly controversial claim that individual rational choice leads to situations where individuals with more resources will carry a higher burden in the provision of the public good than poorer ones. Poorer individuals will usually have little choice but to opt for the free rider strategy, i.e. they will attempt to benefit from the public good without contributing to its provision. This also encourages the under-production (inefficient production) of the public good.
  • However, further theoretical analysis showed that this is not the case when individuals have widely-differing perceptions of the utility of the public good.
"But it is not in fact true that the idea that groups will act in their self-interest follows logically from the premise of rational and self-interested behavior. It does not follow, because all of the individuals in a group would gain if they achieved their group objective, that they would act to achieve that objective, even if they were all rational and self-interested. Indeed unless the number of individuals in a group is quite small, or unless there is coercion or some other special device to make individuals act in their common interest, rational, self-interested individuals will not act to achieve their common or group interests."(pg. 2)
"Since a uniform price must prevail in such a market, a firm cannot expect a higher price for itself unless all of the other firms in the industry have this higher price. But a firm in a competitive market also has an interest in selling as much as it can, until the cost of producing another unit exceeds the price of that unit. In this there is no common interest; each firm's interest is directly opposed to that of every other firm, for the more the firms sell, the lower the price and income for any given firm. In short, while all firms have a common interest in a higher price, they have antagonistic interests where output is concerned."(pg. 9)
  • OPEC
  • National Art Association
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • What are some reasons that people would participate in collective action if others could reap the benefits of their work?
  • What are some other examples of organizations that are built upon the idea of collective action?
james samuel coleman
James Samuel Coleman
  • Born May 12, 1926 in Bedford Indiana
  • Died March 25, 1995
  • Coleman was a sociological theorist who studied sociology of education and public policy
  • Coleman received his bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Purdue in 1949, and received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1955
  • Coleman’s Foundations of Social Theory stands as one of the most important sociological contributions of the 20th century.
what are rights
What are Rights?
  • If a person has a legal right to take an action or to use or dispose of a good or a resource or to control the outcome of an event, this implies that the person may do so without interference from legal authorities. Clear cut definition.
  • None of this causes any problems, however, the problems that arise lies in the broad area of rights that are not covered by law.
what are rights52
What are Rights?
  • For example, if Bob feels that he has the right to smoke at a given place and time but Susan does not, it cannot be said that Bob has the right, despite the fact that he believes he does. It can only be said that the right to smoke at that time and place is in dispute.
  • According to Coleman, it can be provisionally said that an actor has a right to carry out an action or to have an action carried out when all who are affected by exercise of that right accept the action without dispute.
what are rights53
What are Rights?
  • This conception of rights implies that there is not a single “objective” structure of rights of control, but a structure of rights of control subjectively held by each actor in the system
private worlds
Private Worlds
  • The private world of an actor consist of the full distribution of rights as perceived by the actor, together with the actor’s interest.
  • Two sources of conflict in the system of private worlds:
  • One source is a difference in perceptions of where rights lie: One actor perceives a right to be in his/her hands, and second actor perceives the right not to be in the first actor’s hands, but in his own.
  • A second source is a conflict of interest that can exist even when the locus of rights is perceived the same by all.
private worlds55
Private Worlds
  • In this conception there are as many systems of actions as there are actors and each actor has a set of interest in events, as well as a subjective conception of rights of control for all events in which he/she has some interest.
  • This interests of different actors taken together produce an overall structure of interest.
  • Each actor’s subjective conception of rights cover covers all events in which he/she has some interest, as well as some in which he/she does not.
  • This is a portion of overall structure of rights that overlaps extensively with that of others; and the different conceptions may be inconsistent.
the example
The Example

Nonsmoker’s conception

of who holds the right




Smoker’s conception

of who holds the right


who holds smoking rights
Who holds smoking rights?


Smoker’s Nonsmoker’s

Cell Conception Conception

1 Smokers Smokers

2 Smokers Nonsmokers

  • Nonsmokers Smokers
  • Nonsmokers Nonsmokers
who holds the right of an action
Who holds the right of an action?
  • There is a general tendency for the conceptions of different persons about who holds the rights into agreement overtime.
  • The actions that take place in cells 2 and 3 of the table tend to bring conceptions into consistency. The dispute that arises in cell 2 leads each actor to recognize that his conception of rights is not universally held. If the dispute involves more than two persons, one side will recognize that it is in the minority and may yield to the majority. In cell 3 the actions of the actors produce a less strong movement toward consistency, because there is no confrontation. There will, however, be a recognition that one’s own conception of rights is not universally held, and some movement toward the local majority can be expected.
equilibrium changes
Equilibrium Changes
  • In the case of smoking, exogenous changes such as increased concerns with health, coupled with evidence about the negative effects of smoking on the health of smokers and that of others nearby have moved the conceptions of smoking rights in many settings out of cell 1, an equilibrium state, and into cell 2 or 3.
equilibrium changes60
Equilibrium Changes
  • If nonsmokers are, as might be expected, more health conscious and quicker to accept evidence of negative health effects of smoking than are smokers, the movement will in most instances be from cell 1 to cell 2. As long as the exogenous effects continue to move people from a conception that smokers have the right to control smoking to the conception that nonsmokers have it, majorities against smokers’ rights to smoke will develop in both cells 2 and 3, and this will move the system toward the new equilibrium, in which all agree that nonsmokers control those rights.
equilibrium changes61
Equilibrium Changes
  • Once the new equilibrium is established, it is meaningful to say that nonsmokers hold the rights regarding smoking – just as it is meaningful to say that smokers hold the rights regarding smoking when there is an equilibrium in cell 1.
formal authority
Formal Authority
  • Example: A memorandum distributed by a library administrator to faculty members who had studies in the University of Chicago library in the fall of 1988:

In re:

Smoking in Faculty Studies I have been asked to request that faculty who smoke in their studies please keep the study door closed. It seems a reasonable request and so I am distributing this note and asking that smokers cooperate with their neighbors. I also wish to remind everyone that smoking is not permitted in the corridors.

Thank you.

formal authority63
Formal Authority
  • As this memorandum indicates, formal authority over actions of faculty members in their library studies that affect others is held by library administrators. The right of control over actions is implicitly given up by a faculty member in acquiring a study.
formal authority64
Formal Authority
  • In view of the theory of rights as based on power-weighted consensus, one may ask, what can be said about how rights ought to be distributed. That is, what distribution of rights is right? The implication of this theory is that the question is unanswerable in general; it can be answered only in the context of a particular system of action, and there the answer is that the existing distribution of rights is right.
  • What is right is defined within the system itself, by the actors’ interests and relative power in that system. The theory implies that moral philosophers searching for the right distribution of rights are searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.