Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Social Exchange Theory: Application to Advance Nursing
Both sociology and psychology try to explain why human beings do what they do, and act in the manner in which they do. Social Exchange theory attempts to explain how we interact with one another and what we get from those interactions. The purpose of this paper is to look at how Social Exchange theory relates to advance practice nursing. I will discuss George C. Homans social exchange theory (Homans, 1958, p. 597) and how it applies to small groups. I will also discuss the theorist’s background, the studies and articles that led to his development of this theory, the application of the theory to advance practice nursing as well as the components of the theory. History
Long before George Homans penned his articles and books on social exchange, “…attention should be called to Albert Chavannes who wrote on the subject of exchange in 1884” (Knox, 1963, p. 341). Chavannes edited a magazine called The Sociologist and he wrote a section specifically for the editor in which he spoke of “…social laws, declaring: It is the mission of Sociology to demonstrate that man obeys in his conduct as fixed and unchangeable laws as the winds or rain…”(Knox, 1963, p. 342). One of these laws which he spoke of was “The Law of Exchange where he states boldly that profitable exchange is the foundation upon which men have built society” (Knox, 1963, p. 342). Theorist’s background. George C. Homans was born August 11, 1910 in Boston, Massachusetts and attended Harvard University as an English major (Trevino, 2009, p. 1). “He became a junior fellow in sociology in 1934; was invited to become a professor of sociology in 1939…” (Trevino, 2009, p. 1). While not formally trained as a sociologist he became friends with several of the professors while a junior fellow. “None of us, for example, should advise aspiring sociologists to drift into the field untrained through personal connections, as George did, even if it resembled the way that George’s great-uncle Brooks Adams became professor of history at Harvard” (Tilly, 1990, para. 1). He had co-authored a book with family friend and Boston lawyer Charles P. Curtis Jr. called “An Introduction to Pareto” (Homans, 1983, p. 1). This authorship was his ticket to becoming a junior fellow and bypassing the need to have his Ph.D. and was offered a teaching position in 1939. He was then “called to active duty in the U.S. Navy in May of 1941…until the beginning of 1946” (Homans, 1983, p. 16). Thereafter he returned to Harvard “where he remained a faculty member until he retired in 1970” (Trevino, 2009, p. 1). Societal event impact on theory development. While I believe World War II contributed greatly to George Homans development of his theory I don’t believe it had the greatest impact on it. Having spent so much time on the campus of Harvard among the “great thinkers” of the time. “There I met as Junior Fellows young men who were later to make a big difference in my intellectual life: W.V.O Quine, logician; B.F. Skinner, psychologist; C.M. Arensberg, anthropologist; and W.F. Whyte, sociologist” (Homans, 1983, p. 2). Spending time with these colleagues bouncing ideas off one another, listening to the professors talk about their research are the events that shaped Mr. Homans thinking and postulating on how society was to act. When he returned from the war he immediately penned an article called The Small Warship which shows that he was already thinking as a sociologist. Theory development history. While George Homans 1958 article Social Behavior as Exchange set the stage there were others making contributions to the fundamental idea behind the theory. John Thibaut and Harold Kelley in 1959 were publishing “The Social Psychology of Groups” (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) Social control...