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4.2: Types of Social Interaction

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    • Identify and describe the most common types of social interactions.
    • Explain the different types of social interactions that help to stabilize society.
    • Explain the social interactions that disrupt the stability of a society and
    • how these interactions disrupt society.

    Universal Generalizations

    • Social interactions help to stabilize society or can cause a change in society.
    • Social interactions take place in societies all throughout the world.
    • The most common forms of social interaction are exchange, competition, conflict, cooperation, and accommodation.

    Guiding Questions

    • How do you interact with other people?
    • Explain the significance of exchange as part of people’s daily interactions?
    • Identify and explain the types of social interactions that help stabilize society? Which ones disrupt society?
    • What are the similarities and differences between competition and conflict?
    • What is the importance of cooperation for a stable society?
    • How do people and groups utilize accommodation to settle arguments or disagreements?

    Types of Social Interaction

    Social interaction is the basis of the whole social order. A social group is the product of social interaction. Interaction is the real foundation of all social processes, structures, social groups, and functions. In sociology, interaction is the gate of its knowledge.

    A fundamental feature of social life is social interaction or the ways in which people act with other people and react to how other people are acting. To recall our earlier paraphrase of John Donne, no one is an island. This means that all individuals, except those who choose to live truly alone, interact with other individuals virtually every day and often many times in any one day. For social order, a prerequisite for any society, to be possible, effective social interaction must be possible. Partly for this reason, sociologists interested in microsociology have long tried to understand social life by analyzing how and why people interact the way they do.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Social interaction is a fundamental feature of social life. For social order to be possible, effective social interaction must also be possible.

    Social Exchange Theory

    Social exchange theory is a sociological perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. The theory is fundamentally oriented around rational choice theory, or the idea that all human behavior is guided by an individual's interpretation of what is in his best interest. Social exchange theory advances the idea that relationships are essential for life in society and that it is in one's interest to form relationships with others.

    Of course, whether or not it is in an individual's interest to form a relationship with a specific person is a calculation that both parties must perform. Nevertheless, social exchange theory argues that forming relationships is advantageous because of exchange. Each party to the relationship exchanges particular goods and perspectives, creating a richer life for both. Notably, while social exchange theory may reference the literal exchange of goods, it can also mean the exchange of more intangible elements. For example, it is in the interests of a dairy farmer and a vegetable farmer to form a relationship because they can exchange their material goods. The theory also applies to Jack and Jill who decide to get married for the emotional support they exchange with one another.

    Social exchange theory is only comprehensible through the lens of rational choice theory. Rational choice theory supposes that every individual evaluates his/her behavior by that behavior's worth, which is a function of rewards minus costs. Rewards are the elements of relational life that have positive value for a person, while costs are the elements of relational life that have negative value for a person. Social exchange theory posits that individuals perform the calculus of worth when decided to form or maintain a relationship with another person. A good example of this would be proverbial "pro/con" list someone might make when deciding to stay or break up with her significant other.

    Several assumptions undergird social exchange theory. The first is that humans seek rewards and avoid punishments. Second, humans are rational actors. Finally, social exchange theory acknowledges that the standards by which humans evaluate costs and rewards vary over time and from person to person. This means that what might seem rational to one person would seem completely irrational to another. However, so long as the individual's decision-making regarding the formation of social relationships involves an evaluation of worth, regardless of what that means to the person, the behavior fits the frame established by social exchange theory.

    Source: Boundless. “Cooperation.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 19 Jun. 2015. Retrieved 20 Jun. 2015 from


    Cooperation is the process of two or more people working or acting together. Cooperation enables social reality by laying the groundwork for social institutions, organizations, and the entire social system. Without cooperation, no institution beyond the individual would develop; any group behavior is an example of cooperation. Cooperation derives from an overlap in desires and is more likely if there is a relationship between the parties. This means that if two people know that they are going to encounter one another in the future or if they have memories of past cooperation, they are more likely to cooperate in the present.

    Cooperation in Politics

    Without cooperation, Congress would be unable to create any laws.

    Social Conflict

    Social conflict is the struggle for agency or power within a society. It occurs when two or more people oppose one another in social interactions, reciprocally exerting social power in an effort to attain scarce or incompatible goals, and prevent the opponent from attaining them.

    Conflict theory emphasizes interests deployed in conflict, rather than the norms and values. This perspective argues that the pursuit of interests is what motivates conflict. Resources are scarce and individuals naturally fight to gain control of them. Thus, the theory sees conflict as a normal part of social life, rather than an abnormal occurrence. The three tenets of conflict theory are as follows:

    • Society is composed of different groups that compete for resources.
    • While societies may portray a sense of cooperation, a continual power struggle exists between social groups as they pursue their own interests.
    • Social groups will use resources to their own advantage in the pursuit of their goals, frequently leading powerful groups to take advantage of less powerful groups.

    According to the principles of conflict theory, all cooperation is only for the purpose of acquiring individual or group resources. This motivation for behavior restructures day-to-day interactions among people in a given society.


    War is a classic example of conflict: one army is attempting to maintain control of resources (land, weapons, morale) so that the other army cannot have them.


    Competition is a contest between people or groups of people for control over resources. In this definition, resources can have both literal and symbolic meaning. People can compete over tangible resources like land, food, and mates, but also over intangible resources, such as social capital. Competition is the opposite of cooperation and arises whenever two parties strive for a goal that cannot be shared.

    Competition is a common characteristic of many Western societies; primarily in the United States. Many individuals content competition to be an integral component of the capitalist economic system and the democratic form of government. Achievement in many areas such as academics, work, and athletics is achieved through competition.

    Competition can have both beneficial and detrimental effects. Positively, competition if it follows rules of conduct may serve as a form of recreation or it helps to motivate people to perform the roles society asks of them. On the negative side, competition can cause injury, psychological stress, inequality, lack of cooperation, and even conflict.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): All competitive sports are examples of competition for prestige.

    This page titled 4.2: Types of Social Interaction is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by CK-12 Foundation via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.