1. Most broadly, the argument that most social interaction is based on the expectation that actions directed towards others will receive a commensurate response and create reciprocal relationships (see also reciprocity). ‘All contacts among men rest on the schema of giving and returning the equivalence’ (Simmel). Without this, social relationships are destabilized. Communication can be seen as such an exchange system.
2. In rational choice theory, an individualistic and transactional model of social interaction (primarily for dyads) as the exchange of social or symbolic resources with others based on the rational calculation of costs and the maximization of rewards (an aspect of rational choice theory). This concept is most associated with the American sociologist G. C. Homans (1910–89) and the Austrian-American sociologist P. Blau (1918–2002).
3. A European collectivistic model of the interaction between individuals and larger social collectivities based on shared values, cooperation, trust, and loyalty rather than on self-interest. The French sociologist Marcel Mauss (1872–1950) sees gift exchange as the basis of social solidarity (see also reciprocity). Lévi-Strauss sees the exchange of women as marriage partners as the origin of kinship systems; in his structuralist perspective, the exchange of women is controversially presented as a form of communication.