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Sociology Ch. 4 S. 2 : Types
of Social Interaction
Obj: Identify the most common types of
social interaction; distinguish between
types of interactions that stabilize
social structure and those that can
disrupt it.
When you play a role, most of the time you
have to interact with others. This
interaction can take many forms. Some
kinds of interaction help stabilize the social
structure. Others promote change. Among
the most common forms of social
interaction are exchange, competition,
conflict, cooperation, and accommodation.
These five types of interaction take place
in societies throughout the world.
Whenever people interact in an effort to receive a
reward or a return for their actions, an exchange
has taken place. Almost all daily interaction
involves exchange. In fact, scholar Peter Blau
suggested that exchange is the most basic and
common form of interaction. Dating, family life,
friendship, and politics all involve exchanges.
Reciprocity -the idea that if you do something for
someone, that person owes you something in
return-is the basis of exchange. The reward might
be nonmaterial. For example, a simple “thank you"
from your parents might be a reward for washing
the dishes. The reward could also be material,
such as the wage you might receive for working at
a supermarket.
The volume of exchange in daily interactions has
led to the emergence of an exchange theory.
Exchange theorists believe that people are
motivated by self-interest in their interactions
with other people. In other words, people do
things primarily for rewards. Behavior that is
rewarded tends to be repeated. However, when
the costs of an interaction outweigh the rewards,
individuals are likely to end the relationship.
According to exchange theorists, most of social
life can be explained as the attempt to maximize
rewards while minimizing costs.
Imagine that you have
applied for an afterschool job at a local
store. When you arrive
for your interview, you
find that you are
competing with several
other applicants for the
job. Competition occurs
when two or more
people or groups
oppose each other to
achieve a goal that only
one can attain.
Competition is a common feature of Western
societies. Some scholars consider it to be the
cornerstone of the capitalist economic system
and the democratic form of government.
Advancement in business, school, and sports is
achieved through competition. As long as
competition follows accepted rules of conduct,
most sociologists view it as a positive means of
motivating people to perform the roles society
asks of them. On the negative side, competition
can also lead to psychological stress, a lack of
cooperation in social relationships, inequality,
and even conflict.
The main emphasis in competition is on achieving
the goal. With conflict the emphasis is on
defeating the opponent. Conflict is the
deliberate attempt to control a person by force,
to oppose someone, or to harm another person.
Unlike competition, conflict has few rules of
conduct, and even these often are ignored.
Conflict may range from the deliberate snubbing
of a classmate to the killing of an enemy.
Sociologist Georg Simmel identified four
sources of conflict: wars, disagreements
within groups, legal disputes, and clashes
over ideology, such as religion or politics.
Sometimes conflicts begin as competition.
Rival businesses may first engage in
intense competition for customers.
However, as the competition increases,
the emphasis shifts from attracting
customers to undermining the other
business. One business may sell
merchandise well below cost to try to force
the other business into bankruptcy.
Although we tend to think of conflict as
negative, some sociologists have pointed
out that conflict serves some useful
purposes. For example, conflict reinforces
group boundaries and strengthens group
loyalty by focusing attention on an outside
threat. Focusing on an outside threat also
draws attention away from internal
problems. In addition, conflict can also
lead to social change by bringing problems
to the forefront and forcing opposing sides
to seek solutions.
The members of a football team work together to
win a game. The pep club, school band, and
student body also contribute to this effort by
encouraging the team. If, in the end, the team
takes a trophy, it will be through the shared
efforts of the entire school. Similarly, the
employees of a corporation work together to
increase sales for the organization. If their efforts
are successful, everyone benefits. In both of
these examples, the people involved are
cooperating to achieve a desired goal.
Cooperation occurs when two or more people or
groups work together to achieve a goal that will
benefit more than one person
Cooperation is a social process that gets
things done. No group can complete its
tasks or achieve its goals without
cooperation from its members.
Cooperation is often used along with other
forms of interaction. Competition may be
used along with cooperation to motivate
members to work harder for the group. For
example, individuals who go out for a team
sport often compete with one another to
make the varsity team.
In many of your interactions, you neither cooperate
nor engage in conflict. You simply accommodate
the other party in the interaction. In other words,
you give a little, and you take a little.
Accommodation is a state of balance between
cooperation and conflict. One way to remember
this type of interaction is by thinking about
staying at a motel. The owner of the motel is
accommodating you by letting you stay for the
night in exchange for $60. If the owner were
cooperating with you, you would be able to stay
for free. On the other hand, if the owner refused
to let you stay under any condition, you would be
in a conflict situation.
Accommodation can take a number of different forms. One
of these forms is compromise. A compromise occurs
when two parties both give up something to come to a
mutual agreement. For example, you and a friend want
to see different movies. To compromise, you might
choose a third movie that you both would like to see.
Another form of accommodation is the truce, which
brings a halt to the conflict until a compromise can be
reached. Sometimes, when two parties cannot agree on
a compromise, they will use mediation. This form of
accommodation involves calling in a third party who acts
as adviser and counselor to help the two parties reach
an agreement. However, they may use arbitration. In
arbitration, a third party makes a decision that is binding
on both parties. These types of interaction help to ensure
social stability