Interpersonal and Economic Resources

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Science  29 Jan 1971:
Vol. 171, Issue 3969, pp. 345-351
DOI: 10.1126/science.171.3969.345


High population density and increased institutional specialization, which are relatively novel features of human society. have provided conditions for a more efficient exchange of universalistic resources, while decreasing the opportunity for exchanging particularistic ones. The parallel with physical environment is striking: in both cases technology has created new problems in the process of solving old ones. Whether it is natural resources or interpersonal resources, physical ecology or social ecology, recognizing and defining the new problem is the first step toward its solution.

The importance of particularistic resources in solving problems of modern society has scarcely been recognized. Welfare institutions, for example, often require clients to lose status for the money they receive. This form of exchange deprives the client of a resource which is already scarce for him, thus further reducing his chances of autonomous performance as a resource exchanger in society. By ignoring the significance of particularistic resources for social functioning, we tend to see the solution of social problems exclusively in terms of a better distribution of economic resources. Improvement of education, for instance, is considered almost equivalent to allocating more money for schools. Truly money is one of the neighbors of information in the order, but the other one is status. Evidence to suggest that higher status improves educational achievement has, indeed, been repeatedly reported (26).

The very mention of particularistic resources in social planning causes uneasiness and bafflement. The economist Levitan (27), for example, in reviewing the activities of VISTA (a program of the Office of Economic Opportunity), wonders how to evaluate goals such as dedication, involvement, and good feeling. The reluctance to include particularistic resources in social engineering will hopefully decrease as we improve techniques for their observation and measurement and as we begin to understand their rules of exchange and their relationship to other resources. The work described here may constitute a step in such a direction.

The opportunity to progress more decisively toward a comprehensive picture of the state of resources in society is provided by the proposal to institute social indicators (28). Properly constructed they could supply much needed information about resource deficiencies that affect the health of society and could suggest. measures to overcome them.

The purpose of this article has been to summarize some of the knowledge we already possess about interpersonal resources and to outline its application to certain problems of modern society. It has been shown that when resources are classified into six categories and plotted on a two-coordinate space a definite structural pattern emerges. The position of each resource class in the structure appears related to certain properties which in turn affect differentially the exchange of resources in an urban environment. The structural charateristics of resources provide a theoretical basis for the understanding and solution of social problems in modern culture.