House, James S. 1977. The Three Faces of Social Psychology.

House, James S. 1977. “The Three Faces of Social Psychology.” Sociometry 40(2): 161-177.

Presents a “crisis” of SP marked by a division into three camps: 1) psychological SP — “individual psychological processes in relation to social stimuli using laboratory experiments” (161) ; 2) symbolic interactionism — studying “face-to-face interaction processes using naturalistic observations” (161) ; and, 3) psychological sociology (aka social structure and personality) — “the relation of macrosocial structures and processes to individual psychology and behavior, most often using survey methods” (161) – quantitative, but non-experimental. The theoretical and methodological qualities of each of these camps reflect intellectual/institutional context of their origin.

DQ: House proposes an insularity within his 1977 writing, but Thoits presents an argument where sociologists are perpetually pulling from psych SP canons…  What shifted to make this so?

This “crisis” mentioned above is marked by disciplinary insularity – a fragmentation of knowledge, prohibiting interdisciplinary exchange – necessary in the post-WWII decline of the field.  (What brought it back into vogue?)

Psych SP – studying small groups as an intermediary link between individuals and larger social systems; however has become more clinically experimental, moving away from real-life settings/groups (Steiner 1973). Movement to employ non-experimental methods to engage with “real-life,” but has faced backlash. Challenges the sampling technique of university students – many studies throw new people into interaction with each other — not reflecting the realities of consistent interactions.

Symbolic Interaction – Based on the following assumptions:

  • People interpret the world to themselves — “Meaning is not inherent in the people or objects that a human being confronts and perceives, but rather meaning is given to these people and objects by the people perceiving them” (167).
  • Behavior is not an automatic reaction, but an evolving, contextual response. Human behavior, thus, is not very predictable.
  • Situational interpretation and behavioral outcomes are processes within human interaction, and are, thus, not static.

House challenges the non-quantitative and assumedly small scope of SI observation/research.

Psychological Sociology – examines the impacts of large social structures on individuals’ attributes/behaviors. Yet, still falters in distinguishing itself from the disciplines of its forbearers – as well as their faults. WWII quantitative measurement presses guide the methodological practice of this – possibly limiting the scope of research.  Additionally, House challenges the discipline in that it has a tendency to diminish the psychological component of system-person interactions—- (Yes, systems shape individuals, but “Little or no attention is paid to the microsocial interpersonal relations and/or psychological processes through which macrosocial structures come to have such effects” (172).

Prescribes interdisciplinary exchange to address shortcomings found in each sub-discipline – to improve theoretical and methodological rigor in all camps.


Steiner, Ivan D. 1973. “Whatever Happened to the Group in Social Psychology.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 10:94-108.


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