George Caspar Homans

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Homans, George Caspar

 

Born Aug. 11, 1910, in Boston. American sociologist and social psychologist of the neobehavior-ist school. Professor at Harvard University (from 1953) and Cambridge University (1955–56). President of the American Sociological Association (1963–64). Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1972).

Homans is known for his contribution to the theory of small groups, which is based on structural-functional analysis (The Human Group, 1950). In the early 1960’s he moved away from functionalism and defined his position as “ultimate psychological re-ductionism.” Sociology, according to Homans, is “a corollary of psychology,” and “the ultimate explanatory principles in anthropology and sociology, and for that matter in history . . . [are] psychological” (Sentiments and Activities, New York, 1962, pp. 29 and 48). Homans’ primary unit of analysis is “elementary social behavior”—that is, direct contacts between individuals—which he uses as the basis for interpreting social systems functioning at various levels.

Homans investigates social behavior in the light of economic exchange concepts as well as of theories borrowed from B. Skinner’s and E. Thorndike’s behavioral psychology. In describing social behavior as universal exchange and in defining the rules of “equal exchange,” Homans in effect assumes the existence of free competition, as described by classical bourgeois political economists, and of a single set of values outside of history.

WORKS

Fatigue of Workers. New York, 1941.
Marriage, Authority, and Final Causes. Chicago, 1955. (With D. M. Schneider.)
Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. New York, 1961.
The Nature of Social Science. New York, 1967.
An Introduction to Pareto. New York, 1970. (With C. P. Curtis.)

REFERENCES

Loomis, C. P., and Z. K. Loomis. Modern Social Theories. New York, 1963.
Institutions and Social Exchange: The Sociologies of T. Parsons and G. C. Homans. Edited by H. Turk and R. L. Simpson. Indianapolis-New York, 1971.

A. D. KOVALEV