Symbolic Interactionism: Studies of Social Construction

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Symbolic Interactionism: Studies of Social Construction
Hundreds of years before written word, theories have been made about words, the symbolism behind them, and root meanings assigned by social construction. William Shakespeare can be shown as example of this with posed questions by characters in his writings. In Romeo and Juliet, the character Juliet poses questions that reflect the symbolism of the name of her and her star-crossed lover Romeo.

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo. Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet…'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;--Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection which he owes. Without that title:--Romeo, doff thy name; and for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself.” The intentions of Shakespeare were not to provide understanding of symbolic interactionism and to theorize, that was not of importance. However, it is viewed important by many in the realm of social psychology, thus, this paper to summarize and describe the concept and history of symbolic interactionism, give my analysis and evaluation to the current state of symbolic interactionism, and provide future directions for symbolic interactionism. Understanding Symbolic Interactionism

Social psychologist Herbert Blumer (1937) first coined the phrase “symbolic interactionism”. He claimed it to be a “somewhat barbaric” new term that in an offhand way had caught on in social science communities. Blumer’s first explanation behind the concept actually took place thirty-two years later in his book Symbolic Interactionism: Perspectives and Method. Blumer’s concept of symbolic interactionism was developed based on the works of social anthropologist George Herbert Mead, whom Blumer was a student, and his Symbolic Interaction theory revealed in 1922 in an article entitled A Behavioristic Account of the Significant Symbol from The Journal of Philosophy. (Blumer, 2004)

Symbolic interactionism is defined by Blumer (1969) as “people act toward things based on the meaning those things have for them; and these meanings are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation” (Blumer, 1969). Simply interpreted this explains why people do the things they do, and how through the use of other people’s perspective’s they will act. The theory is based on three basic premises of meaning, language, and thought.

The first premise of symbolic interactionism is that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them. Blumer claims “Such things include everything that the human being may note in his world-physical objects, such as trees or chairs; other human beings, such as friends or enemies; institutions, as a school of a government; guiding ideals, such as individual encounters in daily life.” (Blumer, 1969, p. 3) This premise seems simple enough, humans act towards things because of their meanings. In the example of Romeo and Juliet, the love of Juliet and Romeo must be hidden because of who they are, because of their names, Montague and Capulet, those names define who they are as people and those meanings are given by their society. Due to the socially constructed name and meaning of enemy given, there is a sense that they cannot love, but must act as enemies. This leads to a need of understanding why this has been constructed, what is the source?

Blumer explains the second premise is language; which is the source of meaning. It is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction one has with his or her associates. (Griffin, 2006) Simply stated, meaning is not inherent and preexistent in objects and is agreed...
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