George C. Homans, the human group and elementary social behaviour

he photograph of George C. Homans is reproduced here with the permission of the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved.George C. Homans, the human group and elementary social behaviour. George Caspar Homans (1910-1989) is widely regarded as the father of social exchange theory. Two of his many books, The Human Group and Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms are considered world-classics in sociology. He also made significant empirical and conceptual contributions to small-group research. In this piece A. Javier Treviño explores Homans’ lasting contribution.

contents: introduction · intellectual influences · examining small groups · the human group · social behaviour · conclusion · further reading and references · the writer · acknowledgements · how to cite this piece

George Caspar Homans (1910-1989) was born in the prosperous Back Bay district of Boston, Massachusetts. On his mother’s side, he was sixth generation in the lineage of that distinguished family, the Adamses of American statesmanship and literature, which includes John Adams, second president of the United States. Entering Harvard University in 1928 to read English, Homans was to spend the rest of his academic career there. He became a junior fellow in sociology in 1934; was invited to become a professor of sociology in 1939; and, with a gap of four years serving in the naval reserve, he remained a faculty member until he retired in 1970. In The Human Group (1950) George C. Homans made a major contribution to the deepening of small group theory and research – and through this to a growing sophistication of practice with the field of social groupwork. He also explored the activities of individuals in his influential work Social Behaviour (1961; 1974). The development there of social exchange theory proved to be influential with several, later theories including rational-choice theory drawing upon it. Homans served as the 54th President of the American Sociological Association and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Intellectual influences

The majority of Homans’s intellectual influences, whether in the form of people or events, came to him relatively early in life—during his undergraduate years at Harvard University. The first of these was the physiologist cum sociologist Lawrence J. Henderson.

Aside from introducing him to the work of the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, Henderson also impressed upon Homans the doctrine of the notion of the conceptual scheme. A conceptual scheme consists of a classification of variables (or concepts) that need to be taken into account when studying a set of phenomena. It also consists of a sketch of the given conditions within which the phenomena are to be analyzed. Finally, it must contain a statement that the variables are related to one another—and following Pareto, that relationship is usually seen as one of mutual dependence.

Homans was much enthralled with Henderson’s notion of the conceptual scheme as a way of classifying phenomena, and even developed his own for the study of small groups (to be discussed in detail below). Following Pareto, Henderson believed that the subject of interest in sociology—be that a society, a community, or a group—is best conceptualized as a social system. A conceptual scheme of a social system provides the sociologist “with the mental pigeonholes he needs and some notion of the relations between the materials in them, and it will help him to new discovery if he does not let it altogether master his thinking” (Homans 1949: 334). Later in his career and again consistent with Henderson’s directives, Homans eschewed the use of conceptual schemes for the development of theory in the form of propositions.

One post-college intellectual influence on George C. Homans that is highly significant to his social exchange theory is the behavioural psychology of B.F. Skinner. Homans first met and became friends with Skinner when their terms in the elite Harvard Society of Fellows overlapped, 1934-36. When Skinner returned to Harvard after World War II as Professor of Psychology, their friendship revived. From his colleagues in the interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations Homans had heard a great deal about “leaning theories” and began to think about Skinner’s behavioural psychology, which had always appealed to him intellectually. Shortly after reading Skinner’s Science and Human Behaviour (1953) Homans concluded that his principles of behavioural psychology—especially as they concerned the idea of reinforcement—could explain elementary human social behaviour.

Examining small groups

George C. Homans’s great conviction was that sociology begin its analysis from the observed behaviour of individuals, and not from roles, structures, institutions, and other abstractions. This is not to say that the latter are not real only that they are created by individuals. For Homans, explaining how individuals create and maintain social structures requires taking into account the given conditions that influence individuals’ behaviour: their stimuli, rewards, and punishments. Once created, social structures exert back effects on the behaviour of their makers (Homans 1987: ix). At bottom, “both the structures and their back effects consist of the behaviour of individuals” (Homans 1984: 354), and therefore individualistic as well as structural sociology must consider the principles of behavioural psychology.

In The Human Group, George C. Homans uses the systemic model in examining small groups, which he described as “internal systems” facing “external systems.” The ultimate goal for the sociologist, according to Homans, was to “move from a study of the social system as it is exemplified in single groups toward a study of the system as it is exemplified in many groups, including groups changing in time” (1949: 336). But by the late 1950s Homans came slowly to the conclusion that human social systems were much less organic than what he had previously believed. From that point on he all but abandoned the idea of the social system.

Though his consideration of social structure and social system wavered, Homans remained steadfast in his focused analysis of the small group. Indeed, his interest in small groups began early, during his student days at Harvard with the psychologist Elton Mayo, who at that time was interpreting the results of the Hawthorne researches. George C. Homans became thoroughly familiar with these researches, of which at least two were some of the most detailed studies of small groups that had yet been made: the Relay Assembly Test Room and the Bank Wiring Observation Room. He was also well acquainted with William F. Whyte’s Street Corner Society, a study of a gang of corner boys in Boston’s North End, as well as with numerous anthropological studies of kin groups in “primitive” societies, such as that of the Tikopia. In addition, Homans had practical experience commanding small war ships manned by a small group “of not more than two hundred men, differing from other groups of comparable size in being isolated and self-contained, sometimes for weeks at a time” (Homans 1946: 294). Finally, he was influenced by an idea that had been going around Harvard during the 1940s: “If we wanted to establish the reality of a social system as a complex of mutually dependent elements, why not begin by studying a system small enough so that we could, so to speak, see all the way around it, small enough so that all the relevant observations could be made in detail and at first hand?” (Homans 1962: 39). George C. Homans’s intimate familiarity with the social organization of small groups resulted in The Human Group. By the late 1950s when he turned to investigate the elementary forms of social behaviour, Homans began to consider the “sub-institutional” aspects of small groups: the rewards and punishments that each member of a group gets from the behaviours of the other members.

While the observation of small groups had, for George C. Homans, a practical, convenient advantage in the study of elementary social behaviour—“for in them a number of people are interacting with one another in the same place within the same span of time, so that a single observer can economically collect many of the data he requires” (1962: 295)—he made it clear that small groups are not the principal focus of sociological investigation. Small groups, Homans explains, are not what sociologists study, but where they often study their true subject matter, which is face-to-face social behaviour.

Activity, sentiment and interaction

During the mid-1930s Homans came in contact with Eliot D. Chapple and Conrad M. Arensberg, graduate students in anthropology at Harvard, who sought to identify the chief variable in the social sciences that most easily lends itself to measurement in terms of order, frequency, and duration. The variable they chose, they called interaction, it “being an event in which an action of one man was the stimulus for an action of another” (Homans 1962: 37). In fact, interaction was a whole class of variables that could be measured in regard to how often and how long a given person spoke in conversation; how often and how soon that person initiated talk or other action either at the beginning of a conversation or after a pause; how many persons within a given place or time that person interacted with and with how many he or she initiated the interaction (Homans 1983: 14). From then on Homans began to think of other classes of variable that could be added to interaction to account for, not its order, frequency, and duration, but its content. He came up with two others, which he referred to as “sentiment” and “activity.” In classifying these three variables—interaction, sentiment, and activity—Homans began the construction of what Henderson had taught him to call a conceptual scheme.

Sentiment is behaviour expressive of a person’s attitudes toward other persons and includes the “liking and disliking for individuals, approval and disapproval of the things they do” (Homans 1947: 14). Not sentiments themselves, but their manifestations—“in facial expression, in bodily attitudes, above all, in what people say”—can be observed and subsequently measured. Activity refers to any action that people perform that may not require interactions with others or express interpersonal sentiments. Many such activities can be operationalized and measured; for example, as in the case of “output,” the numbers of a particular object a factory worker produces in the course of an hour or day. Finally, and again in line with Henderson (and Pareto), George C. Homans argued that the three classes of variables were interdependent.

Internal and external systems

Later he added the notion that interaction, sentiments, and activities—the elements of social behaviour—should be considered in terms of a group’s internal and external systems. Every group, as a social system, is constituted by a boundary, a conceptual demarcation that distinguishes the system itself from its environment. Within this boundary all emergent interactions, sentiments, and activities are mutually dependent in the behaviour of the group members. For example, in industry a number of workers may be performing work activities in the same room. This performance of their work activities makes it likely that they will engage in interaction. Furthermore, this interaction increases positive sentiment among the workers, which will increase their interaction still more. This set of relations forms the group’s internal system. A group’s external system is the physical and social environment that exists outside its boundary. This may consist of required or planned activities and interactions, as well as the physical setting. And just as the elements of social behaviour are mutually dependent in the primary system, so too is the primary system mutually dependent on the secondary system. Thus, the pattern according to which the management of a factory lays out the physical equipment of a department may well affect the worker’s interpersonal relations within it.

The Human Group

In The Human Group George C. Homans applied his conceptual scheme to a complex body of data on five closely observed, concrete field studies of small groups that had appeared before and during the War: (1) the Bank Wiring Observation Room group from the Hawthorne researches of the Western Electric study; (2) the Norton Street Gang from William F. Whyte’s ethnography Street Corner Society; (3) the family in Tikopia from Raymond Firth’s studies on kinship in the small Polynesian island; (4) “Hilltown,” a study of a New England community at mid-twentieth century taken from David L. Hatch’s (1948) Harvard Ph.D. thesis; (5) the Electrical Equipment Company, drawn from a war-time industrial study conducted by anthropologists Conrad M. Arnseberg and Douglas McGregor (1942). Applying the conceptual scheme to each of these small-group studies, Homans described what data might be classed under each of the elements of behaviour, and what data under the groups’ external system and under their internal system. He then demonstrated how the three elements and two systems are mutually dependent.

The Human Group, which quickly became a classic in sociology, served two purposes, one pragmatic the other theoretical. First, in repeatedly applying the conceptual scheme to each of the five groups considered, the book can be treated as a pedantic manual that methodically and precisely trains students how to actively employ a set of concepts in order to better understand certain facts of observation. As George C. Homans notes: “The student who will follow the example of the analyses performed in the book will himself be able to carry out a pretty satisfactory analysis of any group he studies on his own hook” (1968: 4). Second, and more important, the book can be seen as a first approximation to Homans’s understanding of what theory in sociology should look like. Subsequent to subsuming the data from the five studies of small groups into his conceptual scheme, Homans cautiously but explicitly began to state a few propositions of low generality that seemed to hold good of several of the empirical studies. For example, in endeavouring to explain the mutual dependence of the interaction and sentiments played out among the wiremen in the Bank Wiring Room and among brothers in Tikopia society, Homans observes: “the more frequently persons interact with one another, when no one of them originates interaction with much greater frequency than the others, the greater is their liking for one another and their feeling of ease in one another’s presence” (1950: 243). With the articulation of propositions like this, George C. Homans was on his way, not only toward describing the characteristics of a theory as he understood them, but to creating his own theory to explain elementary social behaviour. And though he believed that The Human Group was not, ultimately, his best work, he was nonetheless wholly satisfied with it as the beginning of his metatheory. He liked the book, Homans explained, “as a louse likes his warm home in the rat’s hair” (1962: 42).

Social Behaviour

In his next major work, Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms, which George C. Homans considered superior to The Human Group because it is the more general, ambitious, and systematic of the two, he brought together all these previous efforts in achieving his next goal: to articulate specific propositions, based on the principles of behavioural psychology, in explaining the “sub-institutional,” or elementary forms of social behaviour in small groups. This new approach to the explanation of social behaviour first appeared in Homans’s influential paper, “Social Behaviour as Exchange” (1958).

In Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms George C. Homans demonstrates further how various empirical findings in the field studies of small groups follow, in logic, from a small number of general principles of behavioural psychology. In his view, both the individualistic and structural sociological approaches to social behaviour require, for their explanation, psychological propositions. Such propositions are not statements about the interrelations of institutions or about the conditions some society must meet in order to survive, rather they are statements about the characteristics of the behaviour “of men as men.” (This meant, Homans insisted, that sociology had no general propositions of its own, and thus, from then on, he was branded a “psychological reductionist.”) The general psychological principles that George C. Homans could deductively apply in explaining the basic social situation—in which the actions of each of at least two persons reward or punish the actions of the other—were already available to him in the writings of his long-time friend and Harvard colleague, B.F. Skinner. Homans, therefore, adopted Skinner’s behavioural psychology, along with a few basic ideas from marginal utility theory in microeconomics, and put forth a systematic set of five general propositions about elementary social behaviour grounded in notions of reward and punishment, deprivation and satiation, cost and profit, aggression and approval.

George C. Homans (1961: 31-50) begins with an example of “a characteristic human exchange” and sets up the following scenario: Two men—Person and Other—are doing paper-work jobs in an office. Each of the men emits behaviour reinforced to some degree by the behaviour of the other. As he emits behaviour, each man may incur costs, and each man has more then one course of behaviour open to him. After adding a few more intricacies to this scene, the basic social situation, Homans then states the propositions relating the variations in the values and costs of each man to his frequency distribution of behaviour among alternatives, where the values taken by one man determine, in part, their value for the other. George C. Homans’s five propositions of elementary social behaviour are as follows:

  1. If in the past the occurrence of a particular stimulus-situation has been the occasion on which a man’s activity has been rewarded, then the more similar the present stimulus-situation is to the past one, the more likely he is to emit the activity, or some similar activity, now (Homans: 1961: 53).
  2. The more often within a given period of time a man’s activity rewards the activity of another, the more often the other will emit the activity (Homans 1961: 54).
  3. The more valuable to a man a unit of the activity another gives him, the more often he will emit activity rewarded by the activity of the other (Homans 1961: 55). (“Value” here refers to the degree of reinforcement that is received from a unit of another’s activity. “Cost” refers to the value obtainable through an alternate activity which is foregone in emitting the present activity. Profit=Reward – Cost.)
  4. The more often a man has in the recent past received a rewarding activity from another, the less valuable any further unit of that activity becomes to him (Homans 1961: 55).
  5. The more to a man’s disadvantage the rule of distributive justice fails of realization, the more likely he is to display the emotional behaviour we call anger (Homans 1961:75).

In essence, for Homans, social behaviour is an exchange of material and nonmaterial (e.g., symbols of approval and prestige) goods. For a person engaged in exchange, what she gives may be a cost to her, just as what she gets may be a reward, and her behaviour is apt to change less as profit, that is, reward less cost, increases. In other words, the more she gets, the less valuable any further unit of that value is to her, and the less often she will emit behaviour reinforced by it. The cost, or the reward forgone, and the value of what she gives and of what she gets vary with the quantity of what she gives and gets. But persons involved in an exchange relationship also expect to receive as much reward from the other as they give to the other. That is to say, they expect there to be a fairly equitable exchange of rewards and costs between persons. George C. Homans calls this the rule of distributive justice and describes it as follows:

A man in an exchange relation with another will expect that the rewards of each man be proportional to his costs—the greater the rewards, the greater the costs—and that the net rewards, or profits, of each man be proportional to his investments—the greater the investments, the greater the profit. (Homans 1961: 75)

From these five general propositions of the elementary forms of social behaviour, Homans endeavoured to explain a wide range of phenomena from conformity to competition, from status to satisfaction—and more generally, and for many sociologists more significantly, to explain the emergence and maintenance of social structures.

A few years after the publication of Social Behaviour, George C. Homans candidly admitted that he was not wholly satisfied with the clarity of the exposition of the book’s thesis. Indeed, despite his uncommon ability for clear and lucid writing, his propositions in Social Behaviour are stated in a rather turgid prose that makes them ponderous reading. He also admitted that he had “handled rather clumsily” (1968: 5), the topics of status and power. So, in 1974 he produced a revised edition of Social Behaviour in which he keeps much of the substance of his main argument but tightens up the argument to make it more lucid and logical. He also adds an entire chapter on power and uses payoff matrices of the sort developed by social psychologists John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley in their The Social Psychology of Groups (1959) to illustrate how power works. Additionally, Homans restates his general propositions and titles them as follows:

The Success Proposition: For all actions taken by persons, the more often a particular action of a person is rewarded, the more likely the person is to perform that action (Homans 1974: 16).

The Stimulus Proposition: If in the past the occurrence of a particular stimulus, or set of stimuli, has been the occasion on which a person’s action has been rewarded, then the more similar the present stimuli are to the past ones, the more likely the person is to perform the action, or some similar action, now (Homans 1974: 22-23).

The Value Proposition: The more valuable to a person is the result of his action, the more likely he is to perform the action. (Homans 1974: 25).

The Deprivation-Satiation Proposition: The more often in the recent past a person has received a particular reward, the less valuable any further unit of that reward becomes for him (Homans 1974: 29).

The Aggression-Approval Proposition: Part a: When a person’s action does not receive the reward he expected, or receives punishment he did not expect, he will be angry; he becomes more likely to perform aggressive behaviour, and the results of such behaviour become more valuable to him (Homans 1974: 37).

Part b: When a person’s action receives reward he expected, especially a greater reward then he expected, or does not receive punishment he expected, he will be pleased; he becomes more likely to perform approving behaviour, and the results of such behaviour become more valuable to him (Homans 1974: 39).

The Rationality Proposition: In choosing between alternative actions, a person will choose that one for which, as perceived by him at the time, the value, V, of the result, multiplied by the probability, p, of getting the result, is the greater (Homans 1974: 43).

In 1980 George Homans was awarded the Cooley-Mead Award, the highest honour conferred by the Social Psychology section of the American Sociological Association to honour long-term contributions of a sociologist to the field of social psychology. This prestigious award was given to him on the strength of Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms.


Today, with the exception of his seminal paper, “Social Behaviour as Exchange,” which is commonly reprinted in anthologies of sociological theory, George C. Homans’s contributions have been largely forgotten; or, if not exactly forgotten then at least relegated to, and subordinated by, the obscurity of obligatory footnoting. However that may be, several of the currently popular theories of sociology—namely, structural exchange theory, rational choice theory, and network exchange theory—have their roots in Homans’s work. His ideas, to be sure, had a profound influence, positively or negatively, on the thinking of major sociologists like Richard M. Emerson (1972a, 1972b), Peter M. Blau (1964), and James S. Coleman (1990). Additionally, Homans has also impacted the research of scholars such as Linda D. Molm (1997), Karen S. Cook (2003), and Edward J. Lawler (2001) who are currently working in the social exchange tradition. Moreover, Homans’s famous plea for, as the title of his important article has it, “Bringing Men Back In” (1964), led sociology away from an overly abstract focus on society and toward the earnest consideration of human activity, be that in the form of symbolic interactionism, Goffmanian sociology, ethnomethodology, or economic sociology (sociological forms Homans did not and would not endorse, but which nevertheless have a “micro” focus of analysis).

George Homans’s major works—particularly the two books discussed above—have had an indelible influence on contemporary contributions of social exchange that focus on trust, commitment, affective bonds, power relations, and distributive justice. Yet, if his poem, “Just Like the Rest,” which appears that he wrote later in his life, is an accurate indication of just how he felt about his works, Homans did not believe they had made much of an impact. The poem reads in part:

I never thought that I should fail:

Failure was not for men like me.

Others would eye the floor and see

That all their works would not prevail …

In what respect had I been blind?

My books were sound, but lacked the spell,

The confident presence, to compel

Their judgments on another mind.

(Homans 1988: 83-84)

And yet again, George C. Homans was largely mistaken about his lack of lasting influence. While many rational choice theorists, network theorists, justice scholars, and small group researchers have failed to explicitly acknowledge his sway on them, many others continue to point to Homans’s works as worthy of being read and reread.

Further reading and references

Hamblin, Robert L., and John Kunkel (eds.) (1977). Behavioural Theory in Sociology: Essays in Honour of George C. Homans. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Treviño, A. Javier (ed.) (2006) George C. Homans: History, Theory and Method. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Turk, Herman, and Richard L. Simpson (eds.) (1971) Institutions and Social Exchange: The Sociologies of Talcott Parsons and George C. Homans. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merril Company, Inc.

Works cited

Arnseberg, Conrad M., and Douglas McGregor (1942) “Determination of Morale in an Industrial Company.” Applied Anthropology 1: 12-34.

Blau, Peter M. (1964) Exchange and Power in Social Life. New York: Wiley.

Coleman, James S. (1990) Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Cook, Karen S. (ed.) (2003) Trust in Society. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Emerson, Richard M. (1972a). “Exchange Theory, Part I: A Psychological Basis for Social Exchange.” Pp. 38-57 in Sociological Theories in Progress, Vol. 2, edited by Joseph Berger, Morris Zelditch Jr., and Bo Anderson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Firth, Raymond (1936) We, The Tikopia. London: Allen & Unwin.

Hatch, David L. (1948) “Changes in the Structure and Function of a Rural New England Community since 1900.” Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University.

Homans, George C. (1946) “The Small Warship.” American Sociological Review 11, 3: 294-300.

Homans, George C. (1947) “A Conceptual Scheme for the Study of Social Organization.” American Sociological Review 12,1: 13-26.

Homans, George C. (1949) “The Strategy of Industrial Sociology.” American Journal of Sociology 54, 4: 330-37.

Homans, George C. (1950) The Human Group. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Homans, George C. (1958) “Social Behaviour as Exchange.” American Journal of Sociology 63, 6: 597-606.

Homans, George C. (1961) Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Homans, George C. (1962) Sentiments and Activities: Essays in Social Science. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Homans, George C. (1964). “Bringing Men Back In.” American Sociological Review 29 (5): 809-18.

Homans, George C. (1968) “A Life of Synthesis.” American Behavioural Scientist 12,1: 2-8.

Homans, George C. (1974) Social Behaviour: Its Elementary Forms. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

Homans, George C. (1983) “Steps to a Theory of Social Behaviour: An Autobiographical Account.” Theory and Society 12,1: 1-45.

Homans, George C. (1984) Coming to My Senses: The Autobiography of a Sociologist. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Homans, George C. (1987) Certainties and Doubts: Collected Papers, 1962-1985. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Homans, George C. (1988) “Just Like the Rest.” Pp. 83-84 in The Witch Hazel: Poems of a Lifetime. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Lawler, Edward J. (2001). “An Affect Theory of Social Exchange.” American Journal of Sociology 107,2 : 321-52.

Molm, Linda D. (1997) Coercive Power in Social Exchange. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Skinner, B.F. (1953) Science and Human Behaviour. New York: Macmillan.

Thibaut, John W., and Harold H. Kelley (1959) The Social Psychology of Groups. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Whyte, William F. (1943) Street Corner Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

George C. Homans- a selection of his other work

Homans, George C. (1941) “The Western Electric Researches.” Pp. 56-107 in Fatigue of Workers: Its Relation to Industrial Production, by Committee on Work in Industry of the National Research Council. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation.

Homans, George C. (1953) “Status among Clerical Workers.” Human Organization 12: 5-10.

Homans, George C. (1954) “The Cash Posters: A Study of a Group of Working Girls.” American Sociological Review 19,6: 724-33.

Homans, George C. (1962) “The Strategy of Small-Group Research.” Pp. 269-77 in Sentiments and Activities: Essays in Social Science. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Homans, George C. (1962) “Small Groups.” Pp. 294-302 in Sentiments and Activities: Essays in Social Science. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Homans, George C. (1964) “Bringing Men Back In.” American Sociological Review 29,5: 809-18.

Homans, George C. (1967) The Nature of Social Science. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Homans, George C. (1969) “The Sociological Relevance of Behaviourism.” Pp. 1-24 in Behavioural Sociology: The Experimental Analysis of Social Process, edited by Robert L. Burgess and Don Bushell, Jr. New York: Columbia University Press.

Homans, George C. (1978) “What Kind of a Myth is the Myth of a Value-Free Social Science?” Social Science Quarterly 58,4: 530-41.

Homans, George C. (1978) “My Meta-Sociology.” Pp. 13-23 in The Study of Behaviour: Psychology as Science/ Science as Psychology, edited by Harold Miller, Jr. Lexington, MA: Xerox Individualized Publishing.

Homans, George C. (1980) “Skinner Again.” American Journal of Sociology 86, 2: 389-93.

Homans, George C. (1983) “Steps to a Theory of Social Behaviour: An Autobiographical Account.” Theory and Society 12,1: 1-45.

Homans, George C. (1986) “Fifty Years of Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 12: xiii-xxx.

Homans, George C., and Charles P. Curtis, Jr. (1934) An Introduction to Pareto: His Sociology. New York: Knopf.

The writer: A. Javier Treviño, a Professor of Sociology at Wheaton College, is the author of several books including The Sociology of Law: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives (St. Martin’s, 1996), Talcott Parsons: His Theory and Legacy in Contemporary Sociology (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), and Goffman’s Legacy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has also edited an important collection George C. Homans: History, Theory, and Method reappraising Homans’ contribution.

Acknowledgements: The photograph of George C. Homans is reproduced here with the permission of the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved. The illustration ‘People’ is by Tim Morgan and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons licence – Attribution 2.0 Generic. See more of his work at:

How to cite this piece: Treviño, A. Javier (2009) ‘George C. Homans, the human group and elementary social behaviour’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [].

© Dr. A. Javier Treviño 2009