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Power, Equity and Commitment in Exchange Networks

Karen S. Cook and Richard M. Emerson
American Sociological Review
Vol. 43, No. 5 (Oct., 1978), pp. 721-739
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094546
Page Count: 19
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Power, Equity and Commitment in Exchange Networks
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Abstract

Exchange theory has the virtue of bringing both power and equity together in a single analytic framework. However, exchange theory has focused largely upon analysis of the dyad, while power and justice are fundamentally social structural phenomena. First, we contrast economic with sociological analysis of dyadic exchange. We conclude that (a) power and equity from social exchange theory carry us beyond economic theory of dyadic exchange; yet (b) for power and equity to be studied effectively, analysis of systems larger than the dyad is needed. Second, we introduce exchange networks to extend power and equity analysis into more macroscopic n-person social structures. Third, a laboratory method is reported for controlled study of exchange networks as bargaining structures. Finally, we present findings which show that (a) power is an attribute of position in a network structure observable in the occupant's behavior, even though the occupant does not know what position or what amount of power s/he possesses; (b) equity or justice concerns constrain the use of that power; (c) emergent interpersonal commitments impede the use of power; and (d) when power is unequally distributed among actors in a network, females form stronger commitments to their exchange partners than do males. In conclusion, we discuss the importance of commitment in distinguishing between economic and social exchange theory.

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