This chapter sets forth the core themes of symbolic interaction as a set of axioms and postulates, the interpretation of which varies over time, as differing theories of mind and of communication develop. These core themes are traced to the work of the Scottish moralists, especially Adam Smith. Next are examined the interpretation of early American philosophy (the pragmatism of Charles Peirce and John Dewey), psychology (James Baldwin and William James), and sociology (Charles H. Cooley, George H. Mead, Robert Park and W.I. Thomas). The contributions of Herbert Blumer and Everett Hughes are discussed along with more recent developments in symbolic interaction (such as identity theory). Finally, author contends that the symbolic interaction tradition is the root of various special theories (such as affect control theory and comparison theory, among others).
The social exchange perspective begins with the premise that in order to get what they need and value, humans must trade benefits with others. Thus, the perspective views social interaction as a series of structurally-bounded exchanges of valued social and material resources between actors located in larger social networks and groups. This chapter describes the concepts and assumptions foundational to most social exchange theories and then provides a history of the social exchange perspective in sociology. This history details how theorists have used these concepts and assumptions to explain social life, with a particular focus on how current trends in the social exchange literature relate to classic theories and general themes in the tradition.
As a form of "glue" that holds people together, justice concerns permeate group functioning. This chapter highlights three central questions: What is justice? How do people perceive injustice? What are responses to perceived injustice? Addressing these questions involves identification of common terms, key assumptions, and the motivations that drive the core of research on distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. The chapter then analyzes theory and empirical research pertinent to how individual factors (e.g., characteristics, beliefs, and motivations) combine with situational factors to produce perceptions of (in)justice. Assessments of injustice resulting in emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses round out the chapter and lead to attention to processes that mediate between perceived injustice and its consequences.
In this chapter, the author provides an overview of identity theory beginning with its roots in symbolic interaction, followed by a discussion of the theory as it is currently conceptualized. The internal and external processes related to an identity are reviewed as well as the relationship between a single identity and multiple identities. Identity theory continues to develop beyond its current boundaries, and the author outlines the theoretical, methodological, and substantive advances that have been taking place. For example, we now are studying different bases of identities (person, role, and social/group), devising new ways of measuring identities, and examining stigmatized and counter-normative identities. The future is bright for this ever-developing theory, and some directions for future research are offered.
Social identity theory is a social psychological analysis of the role of self-conception in group membership, group processes, and intergroup relations. It describes how social categorization of self and others, motivated by pursuit of a clear sense of identity (identity uncertainty reduction) and a favorable self-evaluation (positive social identity), influences self-conception and social perception, and generates group and intergroup behaviors; and how this dynamic is in turn influenced by people's perceptions of the nature of social reality. Since its early origins in the 1970s social identity theory has developed to become perhaps social psychology's preeminent midlevel theory of group behavior. It addresses phenomena such as prejudice, discrimination, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, intergroup conflict, conformity, normative behavior, group polarization, crowd behavior, organizational behavior, leadership, deviance, and group cohesiveness. This chapter describes the theory's historical origins, metatheoretical framing, conceptual components, and numerous developments, extensions, and applications.
Affect control theory is a mathematical, formal theory that describes the way people import cultural meanings into our everyday social interactions. It makes predictions about a broad range of social psychological phenomena, including role behavior, behavioral responses to deviance or undefined situations, emotional responses, labeling of self and others, attribution of moods or personal characteristics, and so on. The theory has been tested using qualitative, experimental, and survey techniques. Several recent extensions of the theory are described here, including the affect control theory of self, an affect control theory of institutions, a Bayesian generalization of affect control theory that allows for analysis under multiple identities and uncertainty about identities, and a group application of affect control theory. Three theoretical simulation tools are described—INTERACT, GroupSimulator, and BayesACT.
Power is one of the most fundamental processes of interest in the social sciences. Emerson's (1962, 1964) theory of power and its link to dependence has become a citation classic. It reoriented the study of power to the analysis of social exchange relations and the structures or networks that connect them. This chapter traces the development of this view of power and its extension primarily within the social exchange tradition in social psychology. The theory grew over time to encompass a number of related social processes beyond power in networks to include analyses of coalition formation, collective action, commitment, social cohesion and trust. The chapter concludes with a discussion of future research topics including those that relate to the rapidly expanding world of online social exchanges, communities and networks that are far reaching,
Elementary theory determines the effects of social structure on actors' interests, and predicts the effect of their interests on their behavior. This chapter reviews the major concepts, assertions and applications of Elementary Theory emphasizing the theory's broad scope and utility for explaining behavior in a range of past and present social structures. The chapter starts by providing basic concepts, and then combines defined concepts to create nuanced and dynamic models of social structure. Conditions of structure are introduced and their effects for both coercive and exchange structures are explained. The chapter concludes by examining prior applications of Elementary Theory to explain behavior in social structures including bureaucratic organizations and ancient polities.
The affect theory of social exchange treats social exchange as a prototypical joint task that fosters positive or negative emotions and feelings. Accomplishing a social exchange makes people feel good, and if they experience this repeatedly with the same people, they tend to attribute their feelings in part to the group or organizational context. This is especially likely if the joint task generates a sense of shared responsibility. Shared responsibility promotes social unit attributions of positive emotion, and this helps explain how people involved in repeated exchange develop emotional or affective commitments to their group or organizational units. The instrumental ties that underlie exchange thereby become expressive. Important consequences include greater cooperation, cohesion, and solidarity.
When humans reflect on their attributes and possessions, they often compare what they have, called the actual holding, to a comparison holding that reflects what they would like to have or expect or think just. These comparisons generate judgments and sentiments that include self-esteem, the sense of justice, and happiness. The hallmark of comparison processes (also known as reference dependent processes) is that the actual holding and the comparison holding have opposite effects on the outcome. For example, as actual earnings increase, self-esteem increases, but as expected earnings increase, self-esteem decreases. The outcomes in turn affect every area of behavior. Comparison theory systematically yields, from its parsimonious starting postulates, a broad range of testable predictions, including novel predictions. Thus, the stage is set for further theoretical development and concomitantly for empirical test of the predictions. This chapter provides an introduction to comparison theory and its research agendas.
Status construction theory describes how structural conditions in society frame and constrain social encounters among people who differ on a nominal social distinction such as gender or race/ethnicity, so that these local contexts of action foster the development and spread of shared status beliefs about the social difference. Status beliefs are cultural beliefs that people in one category of a social difference (men, whites) are more socially esteemed and considered generally more competent than people in a contrasting category of the difference (women, people of color). Status beliefs transform social differences into axes of inequality in society. Empirical tests of the theory's propositions show that the key to this happening is the unequal distribution between categories of a social difference of material resources or technology that allows actors from one category to become more influential in cross-difference encounters than actors from a contrasting category.
The authors describe and review several branches of the expectation states theoretical research program. The theoretical branches reviewed here include, among others: power and prestige; status characteristics; reward expectations; legitimation; and double and multiple standards. For each branch, they describe its theoretical arguments and assumptions, and some of the relevant empirical research. This chapter also introduces research on a new branch of the program on the spread of status value. They review a theory describing how status value spreads and present some of the latest experimental research on this problem. This chapter shows that the program has grown considerably over the years. In particular, that growth has resulted in an increase in the domain that it is applicable to, and an increase in the precision of the empirical propositions that can be derived from its major theoretical assumptions.
Legitimacy theory is a theory of legitimate authority that has subsequently been extended to the legitimacy of acts, persons, positions, and regimes. This theory addresses three questions: (1) What is the nature of the process of legitimation? (2) What are its consequences? (3) What are its causes and conditions? Two publications since legitimacy theory appeared in 2006 extended its scope to the legitimacy of groups dependent on mobilizing the resources of their own members, and address three further questions: (1) What is the effect of the fact that groups are often nested in other groups on the legitimacy processes in such hierarchies of groups? (2) What is the effect of the group's legitimacy on its capacity for collective action and of its capacity for collection action on the group's legitimacy? (3) What is the effect of the legitimacy of the group on its capacity to mobilize member resources?
This chapter shows how social network focus theory helps to understand how individuals experience social networks. The chapter begins with basic assumptions about how social relations arise from repeated joint participation in activities, and how individuals' participation in multiple foci of activity imply particular types of patterns of clusters in networks. Further assumptions about variation in numbers of foci with which individuals associate and numbers of individuals associated with each focus lead to implications for the nature and numbers of direct and indirect connections among people. Further assumptions about homogeneity of characteristics of people associated with each focus, focused sources of strengths of ties, and the nature of homophilous choices within structured contexts lead to further specific implications about the nature of direct and indirect connections in networks. The chapter concludes with discussion of possibilities for further extensions and applications of social network focus theory.
Contemporary Social Psychological Theories contains an overview of three primary perspectives and ten major theories that serve to guide much research in sociological social psychology today. Each theory chapter is selected to cover a major cumulative research program and is authored by the persons who have played a major role in the development of the theory.