Homans, George C.
The Human Group
Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1950
George Casper Homans (born in Boston, Massachusetts, August 11, 1910 – died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 29, 1989, age 78) was an American sociologist, founder of behavioral sociology and the exchange theory.
Homans is best known for his research in social behavior and his works including The Human Group, Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms, his exchange theory and the many different propositions he enforced to better explain social behavior. Within sociology and social psychology, Homans is regarded as one of the major sociological theorists in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. [Source: Wikipedia]
Topic: The human group: relations of interaction, activity and sentiments
Main questions :
• Strong concepts:
o Environment / External system / Internal system
o Interaction / Activity / Sentiments
o Social Rank / Relations superior-subordinate / Structure / Leadership
Data and Methods :
Study based on closed observation of social small groups (in a factory –Hawthorne experiments-, in a gang, in a tribe,…). Theory derived from a clinical analysis (“In action, we must always be clinical” p15)
Summary and citations:
• Mutual dependence of interaction and sentiment :”the more frequently persons interact with one another, the stronger their sentiments of friendship for one another are apt to be.” P133
• Mutual dependence of sentiment and activity: “persons who feel sentiments of liking for one another will express those sentiments in activities over and above the activities of the external system.” P134
• Mutual dependence of activity and interaction: “persons who interact with one another frequently are more like one another in their activities than they are like ogher persons whom they interact less frequently” p135
• “The activities of a subgroup may become increasingly differentiated frm those of other subgroups up to some limit imposed by the controls of the larger group which all the subgroups belong”. P136
• Social ranking and activity: “The higher the rank of a person within a group, the more nearly his activities conform to the norms of the group” p141
• Social ranking and interaction: “a person of higher rank than another originates interaction for the latter more often than the latter originates interaction for him” p145
• “A person who originates interaction for another in the external system will also tend to do so in the internal” p146
• Leadership: “Krupa sought greatness; Taylor had it thrust upon him”p149; “Ability to carry the followers with him is the source of any leader’s authority”.p171
• “We shall now assert that the internal system arises out of the external and the reacts upon it” p151 “internal and external systems are not independent but mutually dependent” p152.
• Differentiation within the group: mutual dependence of activity ans sentiment: “the closer an individual or a subgroup comes to realizing in all activities the norms of the group as a whole, the higher will be the social rank of the individual or subgroup” p181
• Mutual dependence of sentiment and interaction: “the higher a man’s social rank, the larger will be the number of persons that originate interaction for him, either directly or through intermediaries” p182, “the higher aman’s social rank, the larger the number of persons for whom he originates interaction, either directly or through intermediaries”p 182; “the more nearly equal in social rank a number of men are, the more frequently they will interact with one another” p184; “if a person does originate interaction for a person of higher rank, a tendency will exist for him to do so with the memebrs of his own subgroup who is nearest him in rank” p184; “the higher a man’s social rank , the more frequently he interacts with persons outside his own group” p186
• “…a civilisation, if it is in turn to maintain itself, must preserve at least a few of the characteristics of the group, though necessarily on a much expanded scale” p456
• “How can values of small groups be maintained on the scale of the civilization?”p466
Personnal comments, interesting issues and findings:
• Homans is very didactic, giving examples and analogies (engine, thermodynamics, etc).
• Homans applies the universal-known Harvard’s ‘case method’.
• Some propositions seems rather logical but this is because: 1) we all interact with and know social groups and we “know” how they work and 2) as Mayo (and Roethlisberger)said “better to have a complex body of fact and a simple theory than a simple body of fact and a complex theory” p16
• Homans goes back to the basics, starts from scratch: to understand society, you have to understand the society’s unit of analysis: the group. Homans enjoys details (“The stress is on desire”p2) and extracting patterns of behavior from a micro-cosmos. Families as any other group: “a division of labor and a chain of command” p234
• Homans « The leader is the man who comes closest to realizing the norms the group values highest »p188 ; Selznick and others: the leader sets and communicates the values.
• The whole book is based on taking two strong concepts and explaining its relationship.
• Family is based on affection (Tikopia), even groups in firms, as Homans show are deternined by sentiments (helping, caring, etc). Might love be the primal driver of humanity?