Four Models of Human Relationships

by F.

According to anthropologist Alan Fiske of UCLA, we model social relationships using one of four schemas or frames: communal sharing, equality matching, authority ranking and market pricing. Andrew Cassel provides the following useful summary of the types:

Communal sharing is how you treat your immediate family: All for one and one for all. Or as Marx put it: From each according to ability, to each according to need.

Equality matching, by contrast, means we all take turns. From kindergarten to the town meeting, it’s all about fair shares, reciprocity, doing your part.

Authority ranking is how tribes function, not to mention armies, corporations and governments. Know your place, obey orders, and hail to the chief.

Market pricing, of course, is the basis of economics. It’s what we do whenever we weigh costs and benefits, trade up (or down), save or invest.

When the members of a group (such as a country) use different schemas, there can be trouble:

“The Danes pride themselves on being fair,” [Fiske] said. “They can’t understand why they don’t get along with their Middle Eastern immigrants.” But Fiske does: “The immigrants expect authority ranking. The Danes expect strict equality matching. Each side sees people constantly violating the models.”

Similarly for a household:

you might see housework as a communal-sharing function, while your spouse approaches it as equality-matching. Neither is wrong, yet you still end up angry or guilty when the laundry isn’t done.

Cassel’s article is here. A paper (in PDF) by Fiske applying the four schemas is here.

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