Networking and Belonging: Opportunity Structures, Rational Choice Exchanges, and the Sociology of Emotions

This chapter will build on the perspective of social exchange and rational choice theory but will balance its individualistic assumptions by incorporating ideas from two other areas of analysis: opportunity structures for different types of social contacts and relationships and the sociology of emotions. Following are the specific topics to be covered:

  • Individual characteristics and opportunity structures—This section will review Peter Blau’s structural theory of inequality and heterogeneity in order to show how opportunities vary in different segments of society for establishing social contacts or relationship with persons who are similar or different. As we shall see, Blau’s structural theory provides a distinct alternative to his earlier social exchange theory.

  • Social networks—The goal in this section is to show how the social exchange process gives rise to networks of relations with distinctive structural characteristics that can be analyzed independently of the particular social relations that make them up.

  • Sociology of emotions—This section will show how socioemotional bonds lead individuals to identify with the welfare of others as well as their own needs and interests. Key ideas of David Kemper, Diane Rothbard Margolis, Thomas Scheff, and others will be reviewed to highlight the emotional aspects of personal relationships, reflecting people’s efforts to meet their needs for belonging and acceptance. In addition, Arlie Russell Hochschild’s analysis of airline flight attendants will serve as one example, among others, of how emotions are managed in organizational and institutional settings.

  • Virtual social networks—In this final section, we will consider the sociological significance of new electronic forms of communication for market transactions, networking, and personal relationships, drawing on Manuel Castells’ concept of the rapidly expanding “network society.”


Social Bond Personal Autonomy Network Contact Rational Choice Theory Emotional Labor 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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