6 Exchange, Network, and Rational Choice Theories

6 Exchange, Network, and Rational Choice Theories -...

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Contemporary Sociological Theory Exchange, Network, and Rational Choice Theories This chapter focuses on three theories: exchange theory, network theory, and rational choice theory. Exchange Theory Exchange theory has its roots in behaviorism and rational choice theory. Behaviorism, taken from psychology, is concerned with how behavior is modified by its consequences, particularly how rewards and costs act as incentives or disincentives for various forms of behavior. Rational choice theory, which is derived from neoclassical economics, focuses on how actors seek to achieve their ends or goals in the face of limited resources and institutions. From this perspective, actors act purposefully to maximize their utility by rationally deciding upon courses of action appropriate for their resources within the context of various social institutions, which encourage or discourage various courses of action. These two theories were influential in the early stages of exchange theory. The father of exchange theory, George Homans (1910 - 1989), dealt primarily with the psychological principles underlying social behavior. Although psychology was concerned primarily with individual behavior, Homans felt that the rules governing individual behavior were sufficient to explain all of social behavior. At the heart of his theory was the idea that people acted to maximize their rewards in their social action. Thus, the act of maximization usually involved an exchange with at least one other person, although this exchange need not be- and usually was not-monetarily based, but rather was the exchange of approval or disapproval, reward or punishment. Thus, the various ways in which actors may mutually reinforce various forms of behavior explain the hybridity of social action. Homans developed a number of propositions that help explain social behavior, taken by and large from behaviorism and rational choice. Taken together, Homans's theory creates an actor who is a rational profit-seeker, where profit may be considered anything that is viewed as positive for the actor, including the approval or positive reinforcement of others. The actor is rational to the extent that she/he chooses courses of action that have the greatest likelihood of producing desired results. Homans was criticized for not taking fully into account mental states, and for not being able to adequately explain large- scale social structures. Peter Blau (1918-2002)
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This note was uploaded on 05/20/2010 for the course SOCIOLOGY Contempora taught by Professor N/a during the Spring '10 term at Open Uni..

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6 Exchange, Network, and Rational Choice Theories -...

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