Ethnomethodology and symbolic interaction perspectives differ in their approach

Topics: Sociology, Symbolic interactionism, Herbert Blumer Pages: 6 (1712 words) Published: April 14, 2014
Ethnomethodology and symbolic interaction perspectives differ in their approach.  Explain how these perspectives differ
Ethnomethodology and Symbolic interaction are both sub-categories in the social theory of interaction. Interactionism focuses on the details of people’s everyday lives and how people use symbolism to communicate but also to maintain our character and the impression others have of us as individuals.

Both perspectives study similar parts of social interaction and look at behavioral and social norms in modern society. However they differ slightly in both their approach to analyzing social norms but also have different perspectives on the basis of modern social norms.

Symoblic interaction studies and theorises the way in which individuals in society act towards each other based on the meaning that they have for different actions and processes. The meaning we attach to certain actions is the product of the individual’s previous social interaction and therefore the individual continues to handle and modify their own interpretation during all their social encounters. One of the founding theorists of the symbolic interaction was Herbert Blumer and he suggested that we attach meaning to the actions of other individuals and therefore we do not only respond to the actions of the individual but also to the meaning we attach to that action. Therefore people behave and react, in social interaction, because of what they believe and not by what is taking place at the time. Thus the construction of society is based on human interpretation of social action and therefore social bonds are only formed through two individuals interpretation of behaviour.

The theory and meaning of Ethnomethodology can be formed by breaking down the word into its component parts. Ethno meaning people, method meaning method and ology meaning the study of makes Ethnomethodology the study of the method of people. A better definition of the theory is the study of society in everyday life and the analysis of the use of knowledge, actions and interpretations in social situation. Ethnomethodlogists are interested in understanding how an individual makes sense of the social world and is linked to phenomenology. Harold Garfinkel emphasised the use of language and communication as way of analysing the way people make sense of their environment.

This focus on language and communications gives us one of the key differences in the approach of both theories. Whilst Ethnomethodology puts emphasis on the role of language and communication, symbolic interaction puts greater emphasis on actions and interpretations of the individual in social interaction.

The nature of meaning of social interaction is fundamental in both symbolic interaction and ethnomethodology. The definition of meaning and how it used and analysed is considerably different between the two perspectives. In symbolic interaction meaning is the interpretation given by the actor to the setting they are in therefore the meaning is the product of the individual’s social interactions but is interpreted on during the interaction. Blumer says ‘meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters’1. Despite ethnomethodologists agreeing with symbolic interactionists that meaning is formed in social interaction they differ in the fact that they insist that meanings only exist in certain circumstances and that developing and changing through differing forms of social interaction.

This difference in the interpretation of meaning results in different views on certain types of research method and what data is used and the validity of that data. In ethnomethodology the focus is put on the social interaction or communication, they are studying, whilst it takes place and therefore video recording, live observation and audio recordings are used as the key methods of research and analysis. However in symbolic interaction...


Bibliography: 1. Blumer, Herbert. Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Univ of California Press, 1986.
2. Dennis, Alex. "Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnomethodology." Symbolic Interaction 34.3 (2011): 349-356.
3. Denzin, Norman K. "Symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology: A proposed synthesis." American Sociological Review (1969): 922-934.
4. Gallant, Mary J., and Sherryl Kleinman. "SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM VS ETHNOMETHODOLOGY." Symbolic Interaction 6.1 (1983): 1-18
5. Goffman, Erving. Interaction ritual: Essays in face to face behavior. Aldine Transaction, 2005.
6. Mead, George Herbert. Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. Vol. 1. University of Chicago press, 2009.
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