George C. Homans

American sociologist (1910-1989)
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George Casper Homans (August 11, 1910 – May 29, 1989) was an American sociologist, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, who is considered founder of behavioral sociology and the social exchange theory.


  • Success in the sociologists' aim might lead, in T. S. Eliot's phrase, to "systems so perfect that no one would need to be good." This view forgets that men long ago committed themselves to the endeavor to control their own collective behavior, not only in the ways sanctioned by the churches but in others, by making it to men's interest to do good. And they have increasingly based the endeavor on an understanding of natural laws of human behavior, those of economics, for example. So that the question is not: Shall this kind of control be undertaken? but: Where shall it stop? A sociologist might also argue that his religious critics have more faith in him than in their own doctrine, the doctrine that man is infinitely tough and resourceful and is not easily cheated of his freedom to sin. What God has given no man can take away, certainly no sociologist. More seriously, he might argue that the social sciences are not in train to eliminate morality but to make greater demands of it. A sociology that shows us unsuspected or not hitherto understood ways in which men are bound up with one another invites more refined answers to the question: "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Human group, 1950


George C. Homans. The Human group, 1950.

  • If we wanted to establish the reality of a social system as a complex of mutually dependent elements, why not begin by studying a system small enough so that we could, so to speak, see all the way around it, small enough so that all the relevant observations could be made in detail and at first hand?

"Social Behavior as Exchange," 1958


George C. Homans. 1958. "Social Behavior as Exchange," American Journal of Sociology 63: 597-606.

  • To consider social behavior as an exchange of goods may clarify the relations among four bodies of theory: behavioral psychology, economics, propositions about the dynamics of influence, and propositions about the structure of small groups.
    • p. 597; Article abstract
  • Social behavior is an exchange of goods, material goods but also non-material ones, such as the symbols of approval or prestige. Persons that give much to others try to get much from them, and persons that get much from others are under pressure to give much to them. This process of influence tends to work out at equilibrium to a balance in the exchanges
    • p. 606

Social behavior: Its Elementary Forms, 1961


George C. Homans. Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms, 1961; Rev. ed. 1974.

  • In choosing between alternative actions, a person will choose that one for which, as perceived by him at the time, the value, V, of the result, multiplied by the probability, p, of getting the result, is the greater.
    • p. 43 (in 1974 edition)
  • It is really intolerable that we can say only one thing at a time; for social behavior displays many features at the same time, and so in taking them up one by one we necessarily do outrage to its rich, dark, organic unity.
    • p. 114

Quotes about George C. Homans

  • Until the 1950s, individuals were often conceptualized as being at the mercy of structures. The extreme version of this view of man is behaviorism in psychology. In the stimulus response (SR) approach, the goal is to find the proper stimulus; if the search is successful, the stimulus will invariably trigger the response (Skinner, 1953; Hull, 1952). In sociology, the most prominent representative of this view became George C. Homans, who postulated that all behavior is reducible to a few basic mechanisms. Homans was one of the first to present the 'methodological individualism' that later turned out to be the foundation for various versions of 'rational choice'... Homans can be considered an exception in the rigid theoretical frame of sociology.
    • Karsten Renckstorf (2004), Action Theory and Communication Research: Recent Developments in Europe. p. 14
  • 1950: George Homans, The Human Group — advances small-group theory and research; attempts to extrapolate from a single group to understanding the social system.
    • Nicholas J. Beutell. "Chronology of Management Theory," in: Eric H. Kessler ed., Encyclopedia of management theory. Sage Publications, 2013. p. 935
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