Social order refers to the rules and conduct that governs the behavior of people in the society. It describes what is considered right or wrong in the community. It varies in different societies depending on culture, religious beliefs, age and education level, among others.
There are several social science theories that can be used to answer the question “can social order emerge spontaneously?” One of the significant theories is the social exchange theory. This assumption is examined in terms of networks or relationships created from the interactions of human beings and their societal surroundings. In light of this theory, social order can be seen as the unanticipated outcomes that occur during exchange.
The fundamental principle in this theory is the notion that individuals pursue profits or benefits from their interactions. Consequently, they strive to avoid losses or expenses. Rewards are classified in terms of value or pleasure received from different activities. This can be either intrinsic or extrinsic (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007, p. 83). It can also be categorized in terms of social or economic gain. It is indispensable to understand that social exchanges have the power to transform and occasionally change the social order.
Exchange theory is based on the behavioral supposition that the society is made up of rational beings whose intention is to optimize their resources. As a result, actors make a decision based on the greatest satisfaction received. Essentially, this means the individual simply engage in activities that serve them.
For example, most employees will only agree to work for an extra hour when paid for it. According to Calhoun and Gerteis, the fact that individuals are rational, makes optimization a predicament of social exchange (2007, p. 81). The exchanges attained during human interactions are strongly connected to issues of power, justice, consultations, and trade-offs that in the end promote social order.
The purpose of this essay is to examine the social exchange theory and the micro foundations of social structure in order to elucidate how social order can emerge spontaneously. It examines exchange and power as key concepts and further looks into the causal relationship of social exchange and how it contributes to social order. The writer deduces the social order can emerge spontaneously because the actors in the society are rational. They aim at utilizing the positive accomplishments whereas reducing the undesirable activities.
Micro foundations of social structure
Social associations result from the attractions between individuals. Social attraction can be defined as the force that makes people seek relationships and then expand their associations to include others. This description only relates to associations formed voluntarily. It does not consider association formed by coercion or birth.
In social exchange theory, such associations occur only if an individual expects to benefit from the relationship (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007). Consequently, individuals will only choose to connect with people they can benefit from. For both parties, the attraction is based on the benefits expected (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007).
In the same way, an individual who seeks to benefit from others will try to make himself attractive and worthy of the association. Therefore, each individual attempts to make an impression during the early stages of the interaction. If the attraction is reciprocated, the association continues. Social attraction explains the behavior of individual actors in a social system. The progression of social attraction is the basis of social exchange and social order.
Social exchange is similar to economic exchange in that both parties in a trade end up with goods or services that they previously did not have. However, there are distinct characteristics that make social exchange unique (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007, p. 82). Primarily, the goods provided in social exchange are social, and, therefore, have no monetary value such as friendship.
As a result, it is difficult to ascertain whether the exchange is fair. In addition, social exchange takes place over extended periods of time. Finally, social exchange bears no guarantee that a promise will be kept, or a favor returned. In this regard, for social exchange to take place there has to be trust between the parties involved.
According to Calhoun and Gerteis (2007) since trust has to be earned, it takes time to be built. Furthermore, the fact that most individuals desire to maximize their benefits tends to increase social exchange and fortify the associations. The desire of an individual to benefit from others and in return receive rewards creates social order. On the other hand, the desire to benefit from others creates social power.
Nature of social reward
According to Calhoun and Gerteis (2007) in a social exchange, the rewards can either be intrinsic or extrinsic. Rewards are said to be intrinsic when both parties are emotionally involved, for example, a romantic relationship.
On the other hand, it is said to be extrinsic when the parties involved are concerned with the outcome such as co workers who help each other with their assignments. An exchange has to occur in the latter case (Calhoun et al, 2007). Occasionally in a social exchange, one party may offer services but the other party has nothing to offer.
If the reward is extrinsic, this association may not continue for a long time. The party offering the service has several options. He can renounce his services and create another link or coerce the other party to give up something beneficial to him. If these options are unsuccessful, the individual is forced to lower himself and obey the wishes of the other individual. Subordination creates social power (Calhoun et al, 2007).
Exchange and power
In social exchange, power is created when one individual has complete access over a social morality desired by others, and is independent of their services (Calhoun et al, 2007). Such individuals have the authority to impose their demands. Some of the requirements imposed may be considered to be fair depending on the benefits to be received.
However, there are demands which far outweigh the benefits. These demands promote exploitation and inequality. In society, there are regulations that govern the expectation of each individual. A subordinate can either approve or disapprove the demands of a superior. The power of subordinates depends on their number. A group of united subordinates has the power to voice their concerns when compared to a single individual.
In the same way, when a group endorses the demands of a superior, his power becomes valid (Calhoun et al, 2007). Exchange and power can be used to answer the question of social order. If a group of people view their superior as unjust, they may unite and disapprove his/her power. By uniting, the group gains collective power. The breakdown of social exchange will cause a social disorder that will alter the social structure
Causal relationships and social mechanism
According to Calhoun and Gerteis (2007) Exchange theory can be used to describe behavior such as competition, aggression, cooperation and productivity. Actors will react differently towards social exchange rewards. An individual who receives the expected rewards will tend to be contented and act in a proper way.
In the work place, such a person is cooperative and productive. On the contrary, in an exchange process, an actor who does not receive the projected rewards will be disappointed and frustrated. In the work place or school, he will be involved in unhealthy competition with his peers. Secondly, this theory explains why people subordinate. For exchange, an employee will work for a low wage because s/he needs the money to pay bills.
Validity of exchange theory
According to Calhoun et al (2007) the social exchange theory is externally valid. It can be applied in the work place. For example, an employer can encourage his workers by rewarding employees who have performed well. Employees will tend to work harder in order to receive such awards.
Internally, exchange theory is concrete in the micro level (Calhoun et al, 2007, p. 405). Exchange is initiated by individuals. It assumes that social actors are rational beings who seek to maximize their rewards. This theory draws from the rational choice theory which asserts that individuals have unlimited needs, yet the resources available to meet their needs are scarce.
The social exchange theory clearly explains how social order can be achieved spontaneously. The actors in the society are rational, and their main aim is to maximize the positive results while minimizing negative outcomes. Social order is the result of the process of exchange in the society. For example, a social association is can be rooted between individuals, with an aim of achieving certain benefits. The attraction can be formed voluntarily without basing on pressure or other connections (Calhoun and Gerteis, 2007).
A social reward contributes to building the social exchange in the society. As it involve both intrinsic and extrinsic elements, an individual can learn how to utilize this attributes while associating with others in a given form of connection.
For an exchange to continue, the actors have to behave accordingly in order to receive the benefits. As seen noted in the paper, social exchange requires trust. The favors received must be returned, or else, one party remains in debt. This means that an exchange has unwritten laws that people have to follow to avoid punishment or expenses. Individuals and groups have the power to approve or disapprove a social act. This power can alter or change the social structure.
Calhoun, J.C. and Gerteis, J. (2007). Classical Sociological Theory. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers
Calhoun, J.C., Gerteis, J., and Moody, J. (2007). Contemporary Sociological Theory. New Jersey: Blackwell Publishers