Social Exchange, Power and Inequality in Networks

Coye Cheshire
Stanford University Press

There is an interesting tension in the writings about social exchange, especially in the early work of Homans and Blau as well as in many of the subsequent writings about exchange. For some authors, exchange, especially social exchange, entails the transfer of valued resources or the performance of mutually rewarding actions by actors who are relatively equal. Exchange is voluntary and exit is easy. This image also fi ts the basic model of market exchange in economics if we add the condition that information is fully and freely available. Even our received image of the Kula Ring exchange system (Malinowski 1922), the classic example of generalized exchange, is viewed primarily as an exchange among equals that builds solidarity at the communal level. Levi-Strauss (1969: 266) argues that generalized exchange “presumes equality.” Ekeh (1974: 63) also expresses an egalitarian bias: “[T]he signifi cance of social exchange for social dynamics lies in its integration of society not in its differentiation of society.