Exchange Theory/Rational Choice

The textbook notes that the forerunner of exchange theory, George Homans, “maintains that (in everyday interaction) individuals will act to secure rewards and avoid punishment. Social relationships are seen as exchange relationships in the sense that rewards, such a approval or recognition, are attendant on certain behaviors. When these behaviors are rewarded, an individual is likely to repeat them in similar situations. If these behaviors elicit negative reactions, then they are not likely to be repeated. This leads to a view of human behavior in terms of costs and benefits of rational individuals who can calculate the consequences of their actions before taking them. (Farganis, 2014, p. 231)

READ:  Farganis, J. Chapter 9:  Exchange Theory and Rational Choice (attached)


  • In what situations can exchange theory, as summarized above, be applied? Describe 2 situations in “rational individuals…calculate the consequences of their actions before taking them.”
  • What types of situations or interactions are too complicated for exchange theory principles to be useful/applied?
  • Can you remember an exchange you had that did not involve weighing out “rationally”–the costs/benefits of your behaviors or responses? Please elaborate.
  • Remember to use in-text citations and indicate page# and references at the end of your postings in ASA style.


  • Fargains, J. (2011). Readings in Social Theory. 6th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Learning Goals:

  • Understand basic concepts and principles of exchange theory/rational choice theory.
  • Understand how exchange theory and rational choice perspectives are used in contemporary research