Symbolic Interactionism

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8 May 2013
Communication Theories
Final Paper

In this final paper I will be discussing Symbolic Interactionism Theory. First I will discuss the theory itself, and the basic tenants that were created by George Herbert Mead, and then continue on to further explain his theory by addressing relevant literature on the theory itself. Next, I will be discussing how the theory is utilized within communication, followed by a real life application of this specific theory. Then, ending with a general final importance of communication theory.

Symbolic interactionism theory is an socio-cultural, interpretive theory established by George Herbert Mead. “Symbolic interactionism isn’t just talk. The term refers to the language and gestures a person uses in anticipation of the way others will respond” (Griffin, 2012, p. 54). There are three core principles of symbolic interactionism, which include meaning, language, and thinking. “Meaning is central to human behavior in the sense that humans act toward people and things based on the meaning that they have attributed to those people or things” (Smit, 2008, p. 3). It is the interpretation of a response that counts, which is negotiated through the use of language. Meaning arises from the social interaction that people have with one another. Without language, we would not be able to interact and understand concepts that other people may share. “An individual’s interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process” (Griffin, 2012, p. 58). Thinking is an inner conversation that you have with yourself; Mead (1931) called this inner dialogue minding. Minding is the delay in-between conversation where you map out what you are going to say next. People naturally talk to themselves in order to conclude meaning of difficult situations that they may not understand, but in order to be able to think, we must be able to symbolically interact. Language does not come automatically; we must interact with both our self and each other to learn.

The way people think can better be explained by having the capacity to take the roles of others, which is imagining that you are someone else. The mental image of how we look to someone else is known as the "looking-glass self". According to Griffin (2012), Mead explains that the self is an ongoing process that combines the “I” and the “me”. The “I” is the spontaneous and creative self which is subjective from us, and the “me” is the looking glass self or the experience which is objective from others. “Self is the result of interaction between the “I” and the “me” and fundamental for the development of an individual’s identity. The development of the self takes place in a social context in interaction with significant and generalized others. Significant others are people who we respect as role-models and consider central for personal development. Moreover, self evolves through interaction and communication between individuals in the specific group one wants to become part of (Carlson, 2012, p. 460). There is no “me” at birth. The “me” is formed through symbolic interactions. These interactions start first within the family, next with peers, than through social institutions.

As an assistant teacher, I have has hands on experience with symbolic interactions. The theory of social interactionism "aims to uncover the subjective meaning of human behavior and emphasizes in particular the role that language and thought play in the interaction among humans" (Allen, 2009, p.651). As a teacher, we have to break down meaning in order for the children to understand new ideas. By communicating and interacting with children, they are able to increase their current knowledge, and further expand the appropriate developmental milestones for their age. Clarification of new information is vital for the children to expand their current knowledge. Throughout the interactions and communication that the teacher provides to the children will indicate how the child...
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