Social Relationships Built From One of Four Kinds of Interactions

Alan Fiske, a professor at UCLA, has done some interesting research on the language of human relationships around the world. According to this Philadelphia Inquirer article, his research shows all relationships are built from one of these four interactions:

Fiske labels these communal sharing, equality matching, authority ranking and market pricing. Here’s what he means:

Communal sharing is how you treat your immediate family: All for one and one for all. Or as Marx put it: From each according to ability, to each according to need.

Equality matching, by contrast, means we all take turns. From kindergarten to the town meeting, it’s all about fair shares, reciprocity, doing your part.

Authority ranking is how tribes function, not to mention armies, corporations and governments. Know your place, obey orders, and hail to the chief.

Market pricing, of course, is the basis of economics. It’s what we do whenever we weigh costs and benefits, trade up (or down), save or invest.

Don’t get Fiske wrong: He’s not saying that each relationship in your life fits into one of these four slots. Rather, these are paradigms – mental models – that we use to help make sense of our interactions…

(Hat tip: Brad Feld’s delicious feed)

1 comment on “Social Relationships Built From One of Four Kinds of Interactions
  • This reminded me of Partha Dasgupta’s work on social capital, where he outlines his four motivations for co-operation: mutual affection, mutual enforcement, external enforcement and our innate pro-social disposition.

    His chapter ‘Social Capital and Economic Performance: Analytics’ is much more readable than the title might suggest, and it’s available on his website (PDF).

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