George C. Homans (1910-1989) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1910. He initially pursued a degree in English and American literature at Harvard in 1928 but gradually developed a strong interest in sociology, psychology, and history during his studies. In 1939, he became a member of the Harvard staff, where he dedicated his lifelong career to teaching sociology, while also delving into medieval history alongside his colleague Blau. In 1964, he served as the President of the American Sociological Association.
Homans passed away in 1989 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He left behind a highly acclaimed book, "Coming to my Senses: The Autobiography of a Sociologist," published in 1984, which not only chronicled his life but also presented his theoretical perspectives in a comprehensible manner. Homans authored several notable books during his career, including "English Villagers of the Thirteenth Century" (1941), "The Hitman Group" (1950), "Social Behavior as Exchange" (1958), and "Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms" (1961), with a revised edition in 1974. His work has been subject to academic analysis and discussion, as exemplified in A. Javier Trevino's edited volume, "George C. Homans: History, Theory, and Method," published by Paradigm in 2006.
Homans, unlike his Harvard colleague Parsons, aspired to develop a unique sociological theory. He is renowned as the father of exchange theory, which he preferred to term "behavioral sociology". Homans' foundational belief centered on the importance of understanding individual behavior. He argued that all sociological statements ultimately rely on assessments of individual thoughts, feelings, and actions. He asserted that societal changes result from the creativity and adaptability of individuals.
Homans identified five key propositions:
The Success Proposition: The more often a specific action of a person is rewarded, the more likely the person is to perform that action.
The Stimulus Proposition: Similar stimuli to those that have led to past rewards will increase the likelihood of a person repeating an action.
The Value Proposition: Actions with more valuable outcomes for a person are more likely to be performed.
The Deprivation-Satiation Proposition: Receiving a particular reward frequently reduces its value over time.
The Aggression-Incentive Proposition: Unexpected rewards or punishments can influence a person's likelihood of engaging in aggressive or approving behavior.
These five principles also govern interactions between people, forming the basis of Homans' theory of exchange in human relationships.
Homans expanded his theories to analyze larger social structures and societies by introducing concepts like groups, norms, power, leadership, and more. He developed a comprehensive conceptual framework to study societies, all built upon the foundation of his five fundamental propositions about human behavior.