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Social Exchange Theory Essay

1777 words - 7 pages

Social Exchange Theory (SET), a theory based around basic economic principles, evaluation of relationships; consisting of four measures and has been argued whether or not it’s even a theory at all. Richard M. Emerson, a former theorist suggests that SET is “a frame of references within which many theories –some micro and some macro–can speak to one another, whether in argument or mutual support” (Emerson, 1976, p. 336). SET is based on how humans evaluate relationships by making rational calculations based on costs and rewards, designed to maximize individual profit. What makes the theory difficult to diagnose is defining reward. The theory consists of two economic formulas. The first formula: Rewards – Cost = Net Profit translates to: anything beneficial (rewards) minus costs, which could include finances, parenting skills, family matters or stress equals a net profit. The net profit determines whether or not a relationship is beneficial to the individual. The second formula is: Outcome = Rewards – Cost. This means that a relationship will result in a positive outcome if rewards outweigh costs. A negative outcome is the result of costs outweighing rewards. As we move further into Social Exchange Theory and view critiques and criticisms we’ll examine the economic principles in more detail. First, what must be made clear are the measures of evaluating Social Exchange Theory.

Before discussing the theory further there must be an understanding in how theories are evaluated. SET looks at four crucial components of the evaluation process: scope, utility, testability and heurism. First and foremost in evaluating theories is scope. How much does the theory describe and explain what it’s meant to. SET is a broad based theory as its scope is true in most circumstances. Friendships and romantic partnerships revolve around a shared or common ground. The shared portion refers to rewards associated within the relationship. For example; two friends go out to lunch once a week and share the responsibilities. If Jeri buys lunch in week 1, Corey is responsible for driving them to the restaurant. In week 2, the responsibilities reverse. This suggests both Jeri and Corey are rewarded, resulting in a positive net profit. A fundamental piece of scope is the net profit or outcome. How much does a relationship reflect the suggested views? As we just saw in the previous example, both Jeri and Corey have positive outcomes. This is because responsibilities are evenly shared. Scope sets out to explain the economic formula of the theory. In the same example, let’s say Corey’s car broke down one week; this would be a cost to Jeri as it would throw the schedule off balance, Thus leaving Jeri responsible to buying and driving. In this case, Jeri would have a negative outcome as the costs outweigh her rewards. This example describes and explains the scope of SET. The next measure to consider in evaluating theories is how practical or useful the theory is.
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