Blau Peter

Blau Peter

(1918-2002) US sociologist who first made his reputation as an organization theorist with works such as The Dynamics of Bureaucracy (1955) and (with W. Scott) Formal Organizations: A Comparative Approach (1962). Subsequently, with O. Duncan, he also contributed an important empirical study on occupational structure, The American Occupational Structure (1967).

In Exchange and Power (1964) he formulated a version of EXCHANGE THEORY in which his goal was to ‘derive complex from simpler processes without the reductionist fallacy of ignoring emergent properties’. For Blau, ‘social exchange’ is the ‘central principle of social life, and even relationships such as love and friendship can be analysed as relations of exchange’. The institutions of gift exchange in simple societies reveal underlying principles that apply to social exchange in general, for example, ‘that reciprocated benefactions create social bonds among peers, whereas unreciprocated ones produce differentiation of status’. Anxious to avoid a merely tautological use of the notion of social exchange, Blau limits its reference to actions contingent on rewarding reactions from others, which would cease where these reactions were not forthcoming.

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