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Homans' notion of investments as an explanation of gender based power inequities

Brain, Lesley C. (1997) Homans' notion of investments as an explanation of gender based power inequities. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Originally this work was to be an examination of power relationships between man and women. While examining Social Exchange Theory and the idea that power resides in the ability to control rewards, it appeared that being one sex or the other was in itself rewarding. It was realised that this matched Homans' (1961) ideas of investments.

Homans suggested that an individual's background characteristics such as age, gender, race, etc., which he termed investments, operate in such a way as to entitle the holder to a reward. Each individual has a number of investments, referred to in this work as an investment portfolio. Within the portfolio each investment has a socially ascribed value, which allows individuals to rank themselves in comparison to others. This in turn determines the expectation of reward.

In spite of the age of Exchange Theory and its familiarity to social scientists, practically nothing has been done to investigate investments as Homans used the term. This research is a start in the direction of examining a potentially useful and important concept.

Investments are held to affect exchange because of the expectations and ideas people have about their entitlements; examining this assumption forms the basis of this thesis. The first study looked at the interaction of two participants in a set of situations in which one yielded priority to the other; the second study looked at the situation Homans discussed most - help seeking. The third study examined the issue of the emotional reaction when expectations were not meet. Studies four and five looked at the impact of investments on actual behaviour.

Throughout the research, agreement on the operation of investments was very strong: clearly investments work. However, contrary to Homans' assumptions, it was equally clear that these investments operated differently - often having different values - in different situations. This presents both difficulties and opportunities for Social Exchange Theory in the analysis of power.

The final study looked at how an individual's investment portfolio modifies their behaviour when attempting to influence an authority figure. Results once again indicated consistency within, and differences across, situations and investments. It was particularly noticeable that the investment with most variability in its effects in all studies was gender; this has important ramifications for any discussion of power exchange between the sexes.

The evidence presented here, while preliminary, suggests that Homans' notion of investments may be a necessary concept for an adequate understanding of inequality, power and gender.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Supervisor(s): Gibbins, Keith
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