Social exchange theory: premises and prospects

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An exchange perspective places the study of international relations in a framework of negotiation. Central to this perspective are issues of equivalence (fairness) and contingency (responsiveness). The challenge for international actors is to define a precise medium for exchange. The more precise the medium, the less likely actors will misperceive each other's moves. But, the more precise the medium (as in quid-pro-quos) the less likely will actors explore their relationships. The function of exchange processes for regulating relationships is contrasted to problem-solving processes that can lead to changed (and improved) relationships. These issues are discussed in relation to the articles in this issue. Among the themes emphasized by the authors are the idea of calculating actors, the universality of the reciprocity norm, and alternative conceptions of exchange processes. Several conceptual and operational dilemmas for exchange analysis are discussed followed by an agenda of twelve topics for further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-266
JournalInternational Negotiation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • international negotiation
  • social exchange theory
  • reciprocity
  • managing and changing relationships
  • short and long-term relationships
  • strategic interactions


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