Patterns of Social Interaction

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The job and trading are two of a number of social domains in which interactions

are sought. Each has characteristic particular forms of interaction (in terms of

rules, expectations, conventions, and so on).

A social relationship is a pattern of the coordination of interaction. People

coordinate with each other so that their action, affect, evaluation, and thought

are complementary. Strauss (1985, 1988) has investigated workplace interaction,

for example. What each person does, feels, judges, and so on, makes

sense with reference to what other persons do, feel, judge, etc. A social

relationship exists when a person acts under the implicit assumption that they

are interacting with reference to imputedly shared meanings. It is not necessary

that the other people be present or that they perceive the action or understand

it as it was intended, nor even that they exist.

The social problem is the coordination of actors, each of whom can behave

adaptively towards others: they can give something to the other, accept

something from the other, leave something of the other’s alone, or not inflict

something on the other. For each actor, the question to be asked is “Why should

I…?” The answers characterise alternative forms of social coordination.

Market: “because if you do, I will give you something that you value more than

that which I am asking you to give up”

Tradition/legal/bureaucracy: “because it is my right to tell you to do it, and

your duty to do it”

Solidarity: “because you value my welfare, and your doing this will make me

better off”

Cooperative: “because what I am asking you to do is, in these circumstances,

the best way to achieve your goal, which I share”

Markets, bureaucracies, solidarity groups, and cooperative teams are different

kinds of social structures, with different rules for the conditions under which

exchanges take place.

The hierarchical form is constituted by conscious organisation through systematic

administration with overt rules-based control and a hierarchy of authority.

The predominant value is planned orders. In the market, “automatic” coordination

is accomplished in the pursuit of self-interest by individually motivated

and welfare-maximising individuals, leading to the best outcome through “free”

exchanges. The predominant value is price competition. The network comprises

informal and exclusive social, political, economic relationships among

relatively independent trusting and trusted social agents. The predominant

values are trust and cooperation.

The market and the hierarchy are special cases of the network way of

coordinating among and within social units, and these forms often are found

operating in mixed mode. Movement (flow) within a network has replaced

presence at a location as the locus of power, according to Castells (1995).

These different social structures each require a special kind of value consensus

— a medium of exchange (see Table 1).

In this analysis, adaptation involves obtaining “things” (matter, energy, human

services, information) from the environment, disposing of things to it, avoiding

things that are in it, and retaining things inside that might escape to it.

Smith (1995) examines the market and the hierarchy in terms of interaction

partners as persons responsive to basic attachment needs, and explains the

market as a dissipative structure of arrangements of rational activity. Smith asks

how it is that it is possible for people to act as if their interaction partners are

Table 1. Values of alternate modes of social co-ordination of adaptive

actors (based on the discussion by Bredemeier, 1979)

Market mode The Money symbol substitutes for direct social

interaction

Tradition-Legal-Bureaucratic mode Insignia as symbol of a right, and compliance

with a symbol of respect for right and

acknowledgement of duty

Solidarity mode Demonstration of need by exposure of

dependency