Interaction as Exchange

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The social exchange perspective complements symbolic interactionism by

examining concepts of value, sanctions, cost, profit, reward, and so on. Blau

(1964), for example, seeks to explain how individual exchanges emerge from

social attractions into personal exchanges and power, and group authority and

opposition.

People are interdependent with one another and thus attempt, abort, avoid, and

accomplish the exchange of things (food, goods, services, money, etc.). This

requires agreement on who does and should exchange what with whom for

what reasons and on what terms. The necessary interaction, as individuals and

as a group member, is through shared meanings and learned values, and through

social role enactment. Note the similarity here with commonplace explanations

for “communication,” Within interaction, people offer (or don’t offer) things to

one another and demand, accept, or avoid things from one another. Vickers

(1983) didn’t accept goal pursuit as the foundational motivation for human

behaviour, but rather the pursuit or elusion of human relationships.

Social exchange is distinct from strictly economic exchange, and establishes

bonds of friendship or superordination over others. Within an institution, social

exchange may cement peer relations or produce status differentiation. Social

exchange is a voluntary action motivated by expected returns.

Commercial interaction is the basis for the Market System, which is the societywide

social process that brings about coordination of human activities, not by

central command, but by the interactions of the participants. The actions of

producers are controlled and coordinated by the promise of profit-making

revenue from buyers through their actions in expressing preferences and

needs.