Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures


Society has various ways of shaping its members to conform to the requirements that enable them to coexist with others. Some human actions occur involuntarily to make life bearable by shaping relations and ensuring that even though people do not get all that they want they are not denied their rights and freedoms. Sociologists argue that human relations are determined by various factors that motivate people to seek ways of satisfying their needs and thus they must accept some form of coercion or manipulation to get what they want. This essay examines whether social order can emerge spontaneously or there must be issues that propel this to happen.

Article Summary

Peter M. Blau claims that human associations are governed by primitive psychological processes that motivate them to seek rewards in relationships. He defines social attractions as forces that motivate people to establish relationships and expand their associations without being forced to do so. He notes that people are forced to establish relationships involuntarily and voluntarily. This includes the relationships between parents and children (involuntary) and employers and workers (voluntary).

The author claims that the level of any relationship is determined by the degree of mutual attraction between individuals. Blau believes that individuals are attracted to others if they expect their association to reward them. The rewards are determined by the psychological needs of a person, and this is an important factor that defines the personality or position of the people the individual will be attracted to. Social interactions have intrinsic values that compel individuals to develop relations with others; moreover, they have mutual benefits that make people show that they are attractive to others. Therefore, this process leads to social change because individuals must behave in ways that will attract others to them. In addition, it motivates people to change their behavior and do what will prove to others that their associations will reward them. Extrinsic relations are those that reward both parties, and this means that everybody expects to benefit from the relationship. For instance, the association between customers and sellers is determined by the price and quality of goods offered. Customers will prefer to associate with suppliers that sell cheap and quality products.

He claims that when people collectively approve of power they legitimize it and this becomes a way of governing their behavior. Therefore, they will endure hardships when the benefits they get from those in power are more than their suffering. In addition, the subjects agree and approve the leader’s demands, and this means that they will have an obligation to follow his directives. On the other hand, collective disapproval of power promotes aggression and resistance to a legitimate force. This means that it is easy for people who have similar predicaments to have strong social relationships. This gives them the power to organize revolutions and strikes to compel their leaders to seek ways of establishing a common ground for workers and their employers.

The author argues that there is a need for relationships to be balanced. In addition, he claims that imbalances promote equilibrium because people will be forced to act in ways that will ensure they show appreciation to those that assist them. The future of most social attractions is determined by reciprocity. Individuals show appreciation by behaving in ways that will encourage others to assist them. For instance, a boy will sacrifice a lot of his time and money to make his girlfriend happy. On the other hand, the girl must be loyal and submissive to her boyfriend to encourage him to continue extending his favors.


This article shows that social order cannot emerge spontaneously because individuals must act voluntarily to get what they want from others. It is important to explain that people are compelled to establish social order by their desires to attain some ends. Individuals associate with others and change their behaviors to ensure they cultivate good conditions for others to help them. Social order emerges when needy people are forced to obey others to ensure they attract their favors. Therefore, workers cannot get good salaries if they do not perform their duties as expected. On the other hand, employers will not get profits if they do not pay workers good salaries. Therefore, these intrinsic benefits motivate people to change their behavior when they expect rewards from others.

In addition, society has various forms of imbalances that create social classes. Blau argues that individuals can establish equilibrium in their relationships if they allow others to exercise power over them. People expect favors from others and do things that will ensure the means to their ends are justified. For instance, a boy will use a lot of money to make his girlfriend happy and expect her to respect, love, and spend time with him. Therefore, people must sacrifice their preferences and likes to ensure they make others happy and create a balance of needs among them. The need to satisfy an individual’s needs makes people allow others to dictate various issues in their lives. They voluntarily give others the power to make decisions for them and determine various issues in their lives. This becomes an imbalance if workers do not get the expected rewards from their bosses.

Theory Purpose

The purpose of this theory is to help the audience to define and describe social relationships, and how they are formed, sustained, and terminated. The author explores intrinsic and extrinsic issues that determine the success or failure of relationships. The theory explains how legitimacy is derived in relationships as a result of collective approval of power. It addresses the actions of individuals, groups, and society as a whole in establishing social order. For instance, it explains how equilibrium is achieved in a boy-and-girl relationship and how needy people behave to get assistance from others.

The author explains that individuals have different interests and most of these issues have similar ends. This means that their solutions must be similar because they fight to eradicate poverty, injustice, discrimination, and another form of oppression. When individuals sharing similar predicaments establish relationships they share their problems and find ways of solving them. This gives them the power to compel their authorities to listen to their cries, and if this does not happen they resort to strikes and protests. For instance, he describes how people should sacrifice their time, energy, and skills to get good salaries.


The theory is concrete because it addresses empirical facts. The author describes how various factors affect others and the need for consensus between members if they wish to sustain their relations. The paper highlights the need to focus on the outcomes of relationships and not what has to be done to establish them. In addition, it explores various threats like imbalances in relationships and workers’ revolutions and how they help to establish social order.

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Premium Papers. (2022, February 5). Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures. Retrieved from


Premium Papers. (2022, February 5). Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures.

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"Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures." Premium Papers, 5 Feb. 2022,


Premium Papers. (2022) 'Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures'. 5 February.


Premium Papers. 2022. "Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures." February 5, 2022.

1. Premium Papers. "Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures." February 5, 2022.


Premium Papers. "Exchange Theory and the Micro-Foundations of Social Structures." February 5, 2022.