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Social Interactions: Definition & Types

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  • 0:01 Social Interaction
  • 1:02 Exchange
  • 1:42 Competition
  • 2:15 Cooperation
  • 2:45 Conflict
  • 3:21 Coercion
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Social interactions are the processes by which we act and react to those around us. Let's examine the different types of social interactions and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Social Interaction

Erving Goffman was a sociologist who created a new field of study called microsociology, or social interaction. Social interaction is the process by which we act and react to those around us. In a nutshell, social interaction includes those acts people perform toward each other and the responses they give in return. Having a quick conversation with a friend seems relatively trivial.

Goffman argued that these seemingly insignificant forms of social interaction are of major importance in sociology and should not be overlooked. Social interactions include a large number of behaviors, so many that in sociology, interaction is usually divided into five categories. These are: exchange, competition, cooperation, conflict and coercion. Let's examine these five types with a bit more detail.

Exchange

Exchange is the most basic type of social interaction. Whenever people interact in an effort to receive a reward or a return for their actions, an exchange has taken place. Exchange is a social process whereby social behavior is exchanged for some type of reward for equal or greater value. The reward can be material (a paycheck at a job) or nonmaterial (a 'thank you' from your coworker). Exchange theorists argue that behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated; however, when the costs of an interaction outweigh the rewards, individuals are likely to end the relationship.

Competition

Competition is a process by which two or more people attempt to achieve a goal that only one can attain. Competition is a common feature of Western societies and the cornerstone of the capitalist economic system and the democratic form of government. Most sociologists view competition as a positive thing - one that can motivate people to achieve goals. However, competition can also lead to psychological stress, a lack of cooperation in social relationships, inequality and even conflict.

Cooperation

Cooperation is the process in which people work together to achieve shared goals. Cooperation is a social process that gets things done; no group can complete its tasks or achieve its goals without cooperation from its members. Oftentimes, cooperation works together with other forms of interaction, such as competition. In a baseball game, for example, a team will work together (cooperation) while attempting to achieve a victory (a goal that only one team can attain).

Conflict

Conflict is the process by which people attempt to physically or socially conquer each other. Probably the most obvious example of conflict is war, but conflict can also be demonstrated in our everyday interactions, such as legal disputes and arguments over religion and politics. Conflict can have its positive functions, such as reinforcing group boundaries and strengthening group loyalty by focusing attention on an outside threat. It can also lead to social change by bringing problems to the forefront and forcing opposing sides to seek solutions.

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