Can Social Order Emerge Spontaneously
Exchange Theory and the Micro-foundations of Social Structure
The processes that lead to social order are considered as intricate and premeditated, and not spontaneous. The construction of social order is the result, in reference to Blau’s Exchange Theory, of trust and solidarity achieved through repeated social exchange. This paper will explain how and why social exchange occurs and the significance of continual social exchange between two counterparts. Blau states that “social attraction is the force that induces human beings to establish social associations on their own initiative and to expand the scope of their associations once they have been formed.” (Blau 1964: 113) These social attractions between individuals are established along with expectations of favorable social rewards – a higher interest in “expected social rewards”, (Blau 1964: 113) fortifies their attraction which leads to association. It can be seen that the beginning workings of social attraction already rebuffs the idea of a spontaneous emergence of social order. The process that coincides with social attraction already consists of tentative considerations and thus implies a sense of thoroughness and contemplation. These initial social attractions then lead to the important processes of social exchange, which is key to the development of social order. Blau describes the process of social exchange as an individual exchanging potentially rewarding actions in hopes of their counterpart to reciprocate. This return of “favor” can then be analyzed by the preceding individual that performed the act of kindness and ultimately help him/her determine the maintainability of their social association. As this intended theory implies, an individual’s act of kindness for a counterpart resulting with an equivalent return in gratitude, strengthens their social association. One can see that this establishment towards a social order, whether it be friendships or familial ties, is developed through an extensive process of exchanges; and as these favorable exchanges reiterate, association persists. Therefore, one may argue that social order cannot be generated between individuals in an instantaneous moment, but in fact through reiterative and thorough exchanges between them. Blau believes that this repetitive social exchange between partners is the key process to establishing trust. More importantly, this foundation built on trust is what drives counterparts to continue social exchanges with the risk of one counterpart not being repaid for his/her acts of kindness. This extensive process leading to trust and ultimately forming a solidarity disproves the idea that social order can emerge spontaneously. Even if solidarity is not achieved through extensive exchange processes, the relationship between the individuals begin to resemble that of a subordinate and superordinate. However, this subordinate/superordinate interaction between the individuals is also an aspect of social order, and this relationship too has undergone social exchanges to emerge to its stature. The importance of Blau’s Exchange Theory and the social exchange, is fundamentally significant for social order to form. Blau defines social exchange as self-motivated, “in which men enter of their own free will” (Blau 1964: 113), based on expectations of intrinsic (satisfaction or pleasure from this exchange) and extrinsic (goods or services that are produced by the exchange) rewards (Blau 1964: 113) One can argue that Blau focuses more on the individual level of analysis, as the Exchange Theory is sparked from one’s personal interest for another. In intrinsic rewards, both counterparts’ rewards are generally speaking, mutual. In exchanges however, those that mistreat their counterparts, are abandoned and the social association is then disconnected. Blau’s Exchange Theory bases its theoretical foundation more along the...
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