IntroductionInour daily life, we constantly encounter situations where we are giving favorand assistance in return for something else received in the past, or inanticipation of receiving something else in the future, which is easy to understand in that people who give something to othersexpect the same (or more) from others, and similarly, those that get somethingfrom others are pressurized to return the same to them.
These very popular circumstancesscan be explained in light of social exchange theory (SET). This paper willfirst begin with brief history of the SET. Then, I will move on with its basiccontent as well as the basic concepts of the SET, which is followed by theapplication of this theory as hypothetical framework in various disciplines. Finally,this essay will end with my explanation, based on the SET, of some familarsituations in my daily life along with my comments and opinions of this theory.
Brief historyThe theory has roots in economics, psychologyand sociology. Going back to the early origin, theSET has surfaced in the middle of the 21st century. According to Wikipedia, the SET has been derived from thework of Homans (1958), Thibaut and Kelley (1959),Blau (1964), and Cook and Emerson (1987). “SocialBehavior as Exchange” published in 1958 presents sociologist Homans’ view that exchange betweenindividuals, tangible or intangible,continues because each finds the others’ behavior reinforcing to some degree, i.e.more or less rewarding or costly. Thibaut and Kelley (1959) are recognized for focusingtheir studies within the theory on the psychological concepts, the dyad andsmall group in “The Social Psychologyof Groups”. Blau (1964) argued that it is possible to understand socialstructure and events that occur within social structures by looking first atindividual processes that occur between people and then building on them.
Blau’s theory combines principles from operant psychology and econornics toprovide a conceptual framework for the analysis of social relations. The approachof Cook and Emerson (1987) focused on the exchange relation as the mostelementary unit of analysis rather than the behavior or action, takinghypotheses from operant psychology and applied these to human social leaming,specifically their application to individuals. They presented a more generaltheoretical framework for analyzing social interactions, atternpting to linkindividuals involved in social exchange relations together to form structuresor networks. Basic content andconcepts SET is defined in Wikipedia as: a socialpsychological and sociologicalperspective that explains socialchange and stability as a process ofnegotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefitanalysis and the comparison ofalternativesCherry(2017) further explained that according to thistheory, people tend to weigh the prospective benefits and risks of socialrelationships in order to maximize benefits and minimize costs. In other words,when we enter a relationship, we are inclined to evaluate the rewards weare likely to gain and the costs we are willing to pay. If the rewardsoutweigh the risks , we will continue to develop the relationship and vice versa (Liu, Vol?i?, & Gallois, 2015).
Humaninteractions and exchanges are perceived in SET as a kind of results-drivensocial behavior, in which is the concept of cost and rewards is primary. Thismeans that the outcome of a particular relationshipis assessed by the comparison between the rewards derived from a relationshipand the costs incurred in that relationship. Rewards refer to “pleasures,satisfactions, and gratifications the person enjoys” while costs are defined as”any factors that operate to inhibit or deter the performance of a sequence ofbehavior” (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, p.
12). Or as Liu, Vol?i?, & Gallois (2015) stated “Therewards of human relationships can be expressed in the form of satisfaction,happiness, self-esteem, acceptance, and friendship. The costs may involvemoney, time, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, losing face, and frustration.
“(p. 230). Basically, rewards are positive feelingswhile costs are negative ones.
It suggests that individuals in certainrelationships intentionally or unintentionally consider the balance and measurethe disparity between rewards and costs, and then consequently regulate theirown maintenance behaviors used in that relationship. From the social exchangeperspective, rewards and costs are assessed in an overall rating. Therelational outcome value of a particular relationship could be transcribed intoa mathematical equation as follows: outcome = rewards – costs (Thibaut , 1959). More specifically, in the work by Dainton and Zelley (2005), specifiedrelational rewards are viewed as pleasant benefits whereas relational costs aresupposed as unpleasant drawbacks; therefore, individuals obtain positiveoutcome value when the rewards outweigh the cost and vice versa. Accordingto Social Work Degree Guide (n.
d.)., weshould include cultural values when analyzing the decisions of differentsocieties as every culture has their own unique way of judging value, costs andrewards. For example, Asian societies, such as China and Japan, are collectivecultures that emphasize group harmony and sacrifice for the group. Therefore,certain individual costs, such as personal freedom or happiness, are not asimportant as in individualized cultures. In fact, the negative costs of socialdisapproval are more severe in collective Asian cultures. Application in variousdisciplinesSinceits inception, the exchange framework has captured the interest ofinvestigators throughout the social sciences (namely socialpsychology and anthropology), political science to the field of law, to name afew.
In the study by Nord (1969), exchange theory proved: to provide a useful vehicle for dataintegration and generation of new hypotheses about social conformity and the model allows for theprocess of social conformity to be considered in dynamic terms, treating the influence source and influencedperson simultaneously (p. 174)Sociologists have found the framework fruitful inexamining interorganizational relations (Levine , 1960). These experts argued that interaction among organizations can be viewed within the framework of anexchange model like that suggested by Homans and that such model is useful in understanding not only health agency interaction but also relationships within other specific systems. They added the possibilityof applying this skeleton in explaining interaction among organizations belongingto different systems; moreover, the SET is believed to have obvious valuein explaining interaction among units ordepartments within a single large-scale organization. Rapoport and Chammah(1965) have used a form of exchange theory to account for conflict,negotiation, and decision making in both the interpersonal and theinternational arenas. In the field of politics, Waldman (1972) relied upon the exchange framework to integrate understanding ofwide-ranging political activities. He emphasized that the exchange paradigm ishelpful to “explain the degree of governmental power andresponsiveness in the allocation of values”, and “the nature of theparticular policy areas in which governments are most likely to intervene”(p.
118) as well as “to analyze the nature and degree of cooperationbetween different party organizations in different contexts”, and “thenature of leadership within parties in various settings” (p. 121)