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Homans, George C.

Homans, George C. (1910–89) An American social theorist, probably best known for his argument that theory should be based on a series of propositions about individual behaviour, which were to be derived from ‘covering laws’. For Homasn, the most general covering laws are found in behavioural psychology. In Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms (1964), Homans puts forward a set of propositions which form the basis of his exchange theory, which states that individual assessments of costs and benefits are the basis of such social phenomena as competition and cooperation, authority, and conformity. Exchange theory, with individuals rather than groups, institutions, or societies as its starting-point, and with its ultimate grounding in behavioural psychology, attracted considerable criticism from the start. However, several later theories, including rational-choice theory, have been strongly influenced by it. Besides his contributions to social theory, Homans maintained a lifelong interest in the study of small groups, industrial sociology, and historical sociology. He was President of the American Sociological Association in 1964. His other major publications include English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century (1941), The Human Group (1950), Sentiments and Activities (1962), Certainties and Doubts (1987), and his autobiography, Coming to my Senses (1984). See also BEHAVIOURISM; CAUSE; SUCCESS PROPOSITION.

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