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The smallest and most elementary social unit, a dyad is a social group composed of two members while a triad is a social group composed of three members. Most structural conditions and social processes are found in dyadic and triadic interaction. The analysis of dyads and triads clearly demonstrates the poverty of strict psychological reductionism.
A dyad is more fragile and precarious than other social units. If one person leaves or if one s attention is diverted, the dyad dissolves. The intensity of interaction required in dyads creates the conditions in which intimacy can develop.
Three distinct types of dyads can be identified. In pure dyads each is responsible only to the other for the maintenance of the relationship. The world external to the dyad, including the passage of time, tends to evaporate in pure dyadic interaction. With representative dyads one or both members have allegiances to other social units. How they act and respond to the other is, in part, based on their allegiances. Dyads (and triads for that matter) need not be made up of individuals. Supra-individual dyads are comprised of larger social units such as families, organizations, tribes, or societies. In this way we can understand how two businesses compete and political party coalitions form.
In a triad a new array of possible social relationships emerges. With triads, if one member leaves, the group continues. But, with a third person the intimate character of the dyad is lost. No matter how civilly inattentive the third party behaves, the dyad has acquired an audience that at once inhibits certain actions and alters others.
Triads forming one-to-two situations are commonplace. In one-to-two triads differentiation is established identifying the ”one as distinct from the others — as a leader or representative. The ”one defines and acts toward the others as a unit — as an audience, as students, as followers, or as captives. In one-to-two situations responsibility for the actions within the triad falls to the ”one.
- Simmel, G. (1950) The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. and ed. K. Wolff. Free Press, New York.