Alan Fiske, professor of Anthropology at UCLA, in a cogent summary of his Relational Models Theory (available by clicking HERE), asks the following question: Patterns of interaction differ greatly across cultures, so people need to be able to fit their sociality to their particular community, meshing their motives and actions with the culture. But the diversity of culturally organized, complex social relationships presents a seemingly impossible learning problem: how can a child, an immigrant, or a visitor possibly discover the principles that underlie relationships in a strange culture?
In another non-technical treatment of his theory (available for download HERE), Fiske offers and answer to his question: Over the course of 50 years or so of speculation and 30 years of research, I have found out something extraordinary. There are four fundamental choices human beings have in dealing with each other. Not three, or five, or seventy. Four Choices. We can share communally. We can rank on the basis of authority. We can attempt to match equally. Or we can use ratios (such as prices).
Fiske’s Relational Models Theory posits that there are four elementary models to generate, interpret, coordinate, contest, plan, remember, evaluate and think about most aspects of social interaction in all societies:
Prominent linguist Stephen Pinker provides a good overview of three of Fiske’s Relational Models (Dominance = AR, Communal = CS, Reciprocity = EM) in this brief video:
Fiske also suggests that, “I’ve learned that these four models make it possible for people to understand other cultures because all humans use these models to coordinate these social activities.” For example, in exploring the difference between America and African cultures, Fiske suggests that “while Americans (like some hunting and gathering cultures) distrust overly explicit ranking, in many African and Asian societies, hierarchy is the core social value.”
Please take the following POLL:
Some Questions to Ponder:
Fiske argues that these four forms Relationship Models explain most aspects of social interactions in all societies. Do you agree with his position? Why or Why Not?
Michel Bawens asserts that every society or civilization is a mixture of these four Relationship Models, but that it can plausibly argued that one model is always dominant and imprints the other subservient models. Do you agree with his position? Why or Why Not?
Do you think that having a solid understanding of the mixture of the four relationship models for a given region or country would be helpful in determining the opportunities and threats: (1) Associated with Developing the Economy of the Region, (2) A company from another part of the world might face in entering the region, (3) A company from this region might face as it attempts to globalize? Why or Why Not?
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