George Homans

George C. Homans served as the 54th president of the American Sociological Association. His presidential address, "Bringing Men Back In," which he gave on September 2, 1964, at the ASA Annual Meeting in Montreal, was later made available online in the American Sociological Review's December 1964 edition.

As a sociologist, is George Homans' career path significant? Get to know more about George's life in the article below. 

I. George Homans biography 

American sociologist George Caspar Homans (1910–1989) was a pioneer in theorizing testable explanations for basic social dynamics in small groups. The Human Group, Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms, his Exchange Theory, and the several other propositions he imposed to better understand social behavior are among Homans' books most known for his studies on social behavior.

Who is George Homans?

1. Who is George Homans?

Homans, the eldest child of Robert and Abigail Adams Homans, was born on August 11, 1910. The father's side of the family, like other affluent Boston families, featured soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War and ship-owning merchants interested in the Asian trade in the 18th century. Since 1768, all of the male ancestors of Homans have attended Harvard, and Adams relatives have attended since even earlier. 

George Homans' father was an attorney, despite the fact that the Homans family was well-known for producing numerous eminent physicians, some of whom served as Harvard Medical School professors. He was a direct ancestor of President John Adams on his mother's side. John Quincy Adams II, the oldest child of Charles Francis Adams, the minister to England during the Civil War, was less well-known than his brothers Henry and Brooks. He was George's great-grandfather. George Homans never made a point of drawing attention to his forebears and didn't hesitate to talk about them when necessary. 

Pitirim Sorokin, who established the Sociology Department in 1930, is credited with accepting George Homans and Robert Merton into their graduate program at Harvard. Homans was admitted to the program.

2. George Homans early career 

When L.J. Henderson started teaching Pareto's work in a small seminar, Homans' interest in sociology got its start as a senior in college. George Homans was drawn to the notions of a social system and a scientific description of variables right once; this method would become his signature intellectual strategy throughout his career. George Homans co-authored the 1934 publication An Introduction to Pareto with C.P. Curtis, two years after receiving his Harvard degree. In a groundbreaking industrial sociology study called the Western Electric study, he combined his love of this type of theory with a respect for field work that came from his experience working for Elton Mayo and a talented team that included Fritz Roethlisberger, whose field research abilities he particularly admired. 

3. George Homans Sociological Influences

The Human Group (1950), Homan's best-known work, attempted to apply a theoretical framework to five anthropological studies of small groups: the bank wiring room of the Western Electric Company, William Foote Whyte's corner gang, Tikopia by Firth, Hatch's New England town, and Arensberg and Macgregor's electrical equipment company. It brought together his efforts to establish scientific hypotheses with his efforts to comprehend the complex background. George Homans strove to make his claims clear enough to be proven or refuted, in contrast to Talcott Parsons, who dominated the early years of the Social Relations Department. He based his analysis in this work on the distinction between sentiment, activity, and interaction as well as between external and internal systems. 

George Homans then adopted a more psychological strategy, for which he was attacked as a psychological reductionist by others. George Homans followed B.F. Skinner and others in laying out his analysis in Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (1961), which he thought was better than The Human Group despite the fact that it never garnered the same attention. He kept producing scholarly works, but he also produced a candid autobiography called Coming to my Senses (1984), which was rich in social insight.

II. George Homans Theory

1. George Homans Social Exchange Theory

The Human Group (1950) by George Homans was the most read of his books, and two generations of sociologists used it in classes on small groups and sociological theory. He wrote it by hand at his vacation home in Quebec, where he did so with ease, speed, and charm. He demonstrated how three groups of variables—interaction, feelings, and activities—are interconnected in both the behavior of group members (the internal system) and in how the group interacts with its natural and social surroundings. He described five actual field studies of groups conducted by different researchers, and he demonstrated how the data are correctly categorized under each variable in both the internal and external systems, as well as how the variables and systems relate to one another. His theories can be illustrated by the fact that two people in a group are more likely to get along with one another if they interact with one another frequently. 

Humans have always adhered to the common belief that human nature is universal and that generalizations about cultures should thus take this into account. George Homans observed that both societies, despite having distinctly different cultures, had the same behavioral generalization, namely that warm and close relationships tend to develop on the side of the family that is not governed by the man who has legal custody of the children. 

George Homans saw that sociologists all thought theory was important but never defined what it was during his graduate studies. The position that a theory is an explanation by a "covering law" was one that he ultimately chose to adopt. The empirical propositions that link variables to one another are what sociologists attempt to explain, and George Homans came to the conclusion that these generalizations are explained when they can be inferred under the specific circumstances of their occurrence from more general premises (covering laws). George Homans further came to the conclusion that for sociology, the reinforcement propositions of behavioral psychology, particularly those of his friends and colleagues B. F. Skinner and Richard Herrnstein, which apply to the manner in which a person learns actions and to the manner in which he uses them afterwards, were the first approximations of covering laws (see The Nature of Social Science, 1967). Homans' definition of theory is now generally accepted by sociologists, although they are still wary of his recommendations for how to cover legislation.

George Homans Social Exchange Theory

2. George Homans Stratification Theory

The theory of stratification put out by George Homans in Elementary Forms, which was presented as a collection of dispersed propositions and definitions, was possibly the most significant addition to sociology. These comprised: The greater the value of a person's contributions to the group, the higher the status the group members accord him in return. A person's power is more likely to be greater the higher his rank within the group. A person's power increases with the number of group members he routinely has the ability to influence. 

A member's (monetary) benefits should be commensurate with his position within the group in terms of importance. When group members obtain financial incentives that are unfairly disproportionate to their relative rank within the group, distributive injustice exists. The members of a group are less productive and have worse morale when there is higher distributive inequality.

However interesting, Homans' theory of stratification may or may not hold up to empirical scrutiny. He proposed the idea that while status and power disparities are normal, if not inevitable, distributive justice—the proportionality of relative status and financial reward—may or might not take place. He predicted that if it doesn't, the group's productivity and morale will obviously and naturally fall. Homans' idea appeared to offer an alternative to the Marxist claim that the fundamental source of all social issues was stratification, or disparities in financial rewards. Marx's theory can be critiqued because it doesn't address the issues of free riders and exploitation for low and high contributors, respectively, but it will be interesting to watch how the two sets of hypotheses fair in subsequent sociological studies.

IV.  George Homans Death & Legacy

In 1980, George Homans left his position as a professor at Harvard University and moved into his Cambridge house, where he continued to produce books explaining his social theories. The year before he passed away, he also released The Witch Hazel, Poems of a Lifetime. He passed away from congestive heart failure on May 29, 1989, at Cambridge Hospital.

George C. Homans, who is best known for his Exchange Theory and his writings on social behavior, left the sociological field with many of the social theory works that have already been highlighted. "George Caspar Homans and the Rest of Us," a book by Charles Tilly, shows the effect he had on the people he interacted with, including his students, colleagues, and other people. Some of the quotes discuss what he meant to those who knew him and benefited from his teachings. "His pupils carried on his disdain for theories for theories' sake and theories about theories. His readers and students were inspired and renewed, even when they disagreed. George was a life-giver and vivifier ". Additionally, he was chosen to lead the American Sociological Association in 1964, which gave him the opportunity to have a much bigger influence on sociology. Another compliment addressed to George Homans was, "His distinctions affected us, his coworkers, friends, and succeeding generations. True, George wasn't beyond boasting about his own abilities and using them to embarrass or intimidate people around him " (Tilly, 1990:266).

The Cooley-Mead Award, the highest honor given by the American Sociological Association's Social Psychology section to recognize a sociologist's long-standing contributions to the discipline of social psychology, was given to George Homans in 1980. He received this coveted award because of his book Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms.

V. George Homans Quotes

"Sociology is the profession of studying and teaching about what happens when at least two persons are in a position to influence one another" 


"Given the chance, I have always deserted anything that might have contemporary practical importance or that might lead to reforms. I have deserted the twentieth century for the thirteenth, social pathology for primitive kinship, industrial sociology for the study of small groups. It may have been mere escapism... My nerves may have been too weak for the modern world. What never failed to interest me was not sociology as an agent of change or as a means of understanding my immediate environment but sociology as a generalizing science. What were the best possibilities for establishing generalizations? What were the main intellectual issues? By what handle shall we lay hold on it? "


"As far as what good my work does people, I’m sorry to say that it does much more by alerting people to what may go wrong than it does in telling them what they can do about it."


"In human terms, it is hopeless. All of us believe in determinism at times- that is, experimentally believe in it. At other times, we believe we’re free. Our behavior is completely, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to me because I can’t predict it. I can’t show how the behavior of different men, behavior of exemplifying the same general propositions, combines over time to produce particular results. The trouble is that the past behavior that affects-determines if you will- present behavior is linked together in complex chains, creating the illusion of freedom."


"When you’re talking about reforming an industrial system, you have to talk about something that can be operated across the board. With much attention, very skilled people, small groups, reform always can be successful in some sense. But then people jump from this to something that’s going to operate across the board and reform the whole industrial system. They forget the George Homans principle that no society, no governmental system, or no industrial system can work successfully if it depends on extraordinary abilities on the part of the people who run it. It has to be operable by ordinary damn fools like me."

-- George Caspar Homans


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