Are There Limits To Social Being?

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date


Published In

Contemporary Psychology


Reviews the book, Structures of Social Life: The Four Elementary Forms of Human Relations: Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, Market Pricing by Alan Page Fiske (1991). This is one of the most patently ambitious books I have encountered in some time. Its ambitions are matched by equally exceptional inputs of creativity, intellectual sophistication, and supporting scholarship. Fiske is claiming nothing less than the existence of four elementary psychological models that serve to organize our understanding of and direct the course of our actions in all social relationships. The major share of the volume consists of an extensive elaboration of these four models in all their cultural manifestations, along with a discussion of an enormous and wide-ranging body of both theoretical and empirical literature. Approximately a third of the work is also devoted to a detailed and engaging account of tribal life in Western Africa and its implications for the model. These various discussions also allow Fiske to treat a variety of significant questions raised by his theory.

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