Fiske – Social Relations Theory

Alan Page Fiske published his landmark Structures of Social Life in 1991 in which he made a spectacular claim about four models of social interaction which he called Communal Sharing (CS), Authority Ranking (AR), Equality Matching (EM) and Market Pricing (MP), he asserts

“that these four models, in varying combinations, govern nearly all human transactions – exchange; distribution and contribution; the organization of work; the construal or social meanings to objects, land, and time.  They organize ideas about social justice; moral judgment, political ideology, religious observance and social conflict.  They inform responses to transgression and misfortune. They are the basis of human sociality”

I was alerted to the political significance of Fiske’s works by Steve Pinker’s How the Mind Works (1997) when he observed that the mass psychology of Fascism referenced  Fiske’s CS and AR social structures.  This observation was startling as it showed that Fiske’s social relations could be valorised, considered a sense of moral good in their own right and form the basis of political ideology and action.

The four social relations are as follows:

Fiske%27s+Four+Types+of+Social+Relations

Of CS,  Fiske (1991 page, 116) says “as a moral idea is the axiom that people should be altruistic, sharing generously with others of their kind, and placing the needs of their community ahead of their own personal needs”

The “morality of AR consists in an attitude of respect, deference, loyalty, and obedience by subordinates, complemented by the pastoral responsibility of the authority to execrcise his or her strength to provide security and protection for subordinates and to give wise and directive advise.” Fiske (1991  page 117).

Of EM he says “the precepts of equality, of justice as equal treatment, in kind compensation, or the righteousness of strictly reciprocal revenge, together with fairness as an even distribution and uniform contributions, comprise the effects of Equality Matching” (1991 page 118)

“The morality of Market Pricing is represented in the libertarian ideology of absolute freedom of rational choice, together with the sanctity of voluntarily negotiated contracts or promises”  (1991 page 118)

Fiske argues that the social models are cognitively instantiated and understood by all except the mentally ill who signal their illness by confusing the models.   As for politics and society he asserts

“The important idea is that these four models, in varying combinations, govern nearly all human transactions – exchange; distribution and contribution; the organization of work; the construal or social meanings to objects, land, and time.  They organize ideas about social justice; moral judgment, political ideology, religious observance and social conflict.  They inform responses to transgression and misfortune. They are the basis of human sociality. ”  Basic Relationships, Alan Fiske (with Alan Ehrenhal)

This claim is amazing all ideas about political ideology are rooted in the four social models and yet almost no discussion of politics references social models or indeed moral structures.  I think Fiske’s claim is essentially correct and I hope to understand about just how they apply to politics in conjunction with Haidt Moral Intuitions as this blog develops.    Hiadt tells us that he took his Authority foundation from Fiske’s AR.  If Fascism as mentioned earlier references CS and AR strongly you can develop a typology of politics based on how enthusiastic different ideologies are about different social models in their politics.  Take the Libertarians as an obvious example of a clear valorisation of MP as a social relation with weak reference to the other three.  You can add Haidt to Fiske here and observe that Libertarians have Moral Intuitions around Freedom to (Negative Liberty) with strong MP valorisation.  That’s the moral claim Libertarianism.

Fiske doesn’t assert that all people believe that the four models are of moral worth for all people all the time, people have preferences within the models and these preferences surely influence their political perspectives.  Take for example someone very comfortable in AR, enjoying the associated responsibility and social dominance that is conferred by rank in and AR setup such as a company, church or army regiment.  That person is unlikely to gravitate to political expression which are hostile to AR such as Green politics.

An important note – the social models are not moral in themselves, indeed Fiske’s observes that each of then has an evil cousin: for CS traditional societies can be cruel and oppressive , AR can lead to the dominant abusing their power, EM allows for tit for tat killings and MP includes slavery….  it is this duality of the social relations which is of great interest, valorised by some in some circumstances, each capable of both good and bad.  The Libertarian sees the ” sanctity of voluntarily negotiated contracts” but not the exploitation of poor country workers.  The Communist sees the social security in guaranteeing employment but not the outrage of denial of individual expression.

Hadit and Fiske then propose a political architecture but perhaps we also need Lakoff……

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