Top-Rated Free Essay

Symbolic Interaction

Good Essays
Symbolic Interaction Theory

Symbolic Interactionism is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. This perspective has a long intellectual history, beginning with the German sociologist and economist, Max Weber (1864-1920) and the American philosopher, George H. Mead (1863-1931), both of whom emphasized the subjective meaning of human behaviour, the social process, and pragmatism.
George Herbert Mead believed that symbols were the basis of individual identity and social life. In his opinion, individuals can acquire identity only through interacting with others. By doing this, we learn the language of our social lives. Since Mead regarded symbols as the foundation of both personal and social life, the theory he developed is called Symbolic Interactionism. Although Mead died before naming his theory, Herbert Blumer, a student of his, came up with the name. Blumer stated that Mead's theory consisted of three key concepts, meaning, language, and thought.
The central theme of symbolic interactionism is that human life is lived in the symbolic domain. Symbols are culturally derived social objects having shared meanings that are created and maintained in social interaction. Through language and communication, symbols provide the means by which reality is constructed. Reality is primarily a social product, and all that is humanly consequential self, mind, society, culture emerges from and is dependent on symbolic interactions for its existence. Even the physical environment is relevant to human conduct mainly as it is interpreted through symbolic systems.

Symbolic Interaction Theory has been a powerful theoretical framework for over sixty years. It provides striking insights about human communication behaviour in a wide variety of contexts. The theory is logical in its development, beginning with the role of the self and progressing to an examination of the self in society. In my research I noted that the theory is heuristic, identifying its application in a variety of contexts, including media, organizational, and interpersonal.

Yet, the theory is not without its critics. The major objections raised in regard to SI tend to focus on the following areas: It is too broad, it places too much emphasis on personal behaviour, it neglects other important variables, and it is not falsifiable. I will briefly explore these criticisms below.
Some critics complain that SI is too broad to be useful. This criticism centres on the evaluation criterion of scope. SI covers too much ground, these critics assert, to fully explain specific meaning-making processes and communication behaviours. Related to this is the objection that the concepts that make up the theory are broadly drawn and rather vague. Additionally, due to this vagueness, SI is difficult to falsify. In response to this criticism, SI proponents explain that SI is not one unified theory; rather, it is a framework that can support many specific theories. In the more specific theories, like Role Theory, for example, the concepts are more clearly defined and are capable of falsification.
A second area of criticism concerns Mead's emphasis on the power of the actor to create reality. Critics observe that this ignores the extent to which people live in a world not of their own making. SI theorists regard a situation as real if the actors define it as real. But Erving Goffman (1974) comments that this notion, although true, ignores physical reality. For instance, if I and my parents agreed that I was an excellent Chef and that I was doing a wonderful job within the hotel that would be reality for them. Yet, it would not acknowledge the fact that my boss perceived my skills as inadequate and fired me. SI theorists counter by citing that they try to tread a middle ground between freedom of choice and external constraint. They recognize the validity of constraint, but they also emphasize the importance of shared meanings.
Another area of criticism suggests that there are important concepts that SI ignores, such as emotions and self-esteem. SI does not explain the emotional dimension of human interaction. Furthermore while digging a little deeper SI discusses how we develop a self-concept, but it does not have much to say about how we evaluate ourselves. With reference to the lack of attention to the emotional aspects of human life, SI theorists respond that although Mead does not emphasize these aspects, the theory itself can accommodate emotions.
Symbolic Interaction has critics, but it still remains a heuristic, enduring theory. It supports research in multiple contexts, and it is constantly being refined and extended. Further, it is one of the leading conceptual tools for interpreting social interactions, and its core constructs provide the foundation for many other theories.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Good Essays

    After I realized most I would not have access to most of the settings I decided to observe students at the student center. While observing I noticed certain interaction with students, I observed the high level of interaction between fellow black students and the different interaction they had between students of other races. This brought me to wonder if people change their behavior when interacting with certain people. I aim to understand if McMaster students take on a different role when they are…

    • 734 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Symbolic interaction

    • 595 Words
    • 3 Pages

    Symbolic Interaction Approach From the sun there grew a beautiful flower that had the magic ability to heal people. An evil woman found the flower and hid it from the rest of the world for her own selfish desires. Every time she would sing a certain song to the flower it would make her young again. Over and over again for hundreds of years she would reverse time to make herself young and beautiful. In a kingdom not far away from the evil woman and her magical plant, there was a king and queen…

    • 595 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    Symbolic Interaction

    • 536 Words
    • 3 Pages

    SYMBOLIC INTERACTION THEORY: Symbolic interaction is a theoretical approach of interrelating interactions in the society. It is one of the most important sociological theories which basically give the relationship between humans and society. Its main notion is that human interactions are understandable only by setting certain meanings to specific symbols and actions. As symbols define relationships, it helps in predicting the human behaviour. We develop our self-concepts through interaction with…

    • 536 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Good Essays

    Symbolic Interaction

    • 763 Words
    • 3 Pages

    This paper will discuss Symbolic Interaction verses Structural Functional and Conflict Theory. I chose Symbolic Interaction on the basis that I deal with people all day in the hospital environment, and I feel that I see many dynamics of individuals with their beliefs and personalities. I would like to discuss the relationship in society (functional) and the competiveness (conflict theory) at a later time. This news event I believe depicts the Symbolic Interaction in society based on belief and…

    • 763 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Better Essays

    Symbolic Interaction

    • 722 Words
    • 3 Pages

    SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM Symbolic Interactionism as put forward by Herbert Blumer, is the process of interaction in the formation of meanings for individuals. With this as his inspiration, He outlined Symbolic Interactionism, a study of human group life and conduct. The symbolic interactionists perspective in sociology, aims to view society as a product of everyday social interactions among the individuals. Symbolic interactionists also focus on how people use symbols to create meaning. While…

    • 722 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    The symbolic interaction theory is derived from three basic assumptions formulated by Brumer in 1969(Friedan, Bowden, & Jones, 2003). The first assumption is human beings act toward things on the basis of the meaning that these things have for them. Secondly, the meaning of such things is derived from, and arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows (Friedan, Bowden, & Jones, 2003). Lastly, these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used…

    • 416 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Symbolic Interaction Theory

    • 2379 Words
    • 10 Pages

    Interactions are reciprocal acts that take place between people and are conducted through symbols, words, or gestures that stand form something else. 2. The family can be seen as a unity of interacting personalities, with each member having a social role. a. Over time, our interactions and relationships define the nature of our family. b. Our identities emerge from the interplay between our unique selves and our social roles. 3. Symbolic interaction has several weaknesses. a. Symbolic interaction…

    • 2379 Words
    • 10 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    is “different”. But, by giving him the chance to talk she was able to let her guard down. I think that it is a wonderful thing. Him on the other hand, he was adjusting the way he spoke with her to seem more appealing. This is a result of the symbolic interaction theory. We never know the impact someone can have on our lives, and I think that’s the point that the filmmakers were trying to make. Katie, was the one who had the biggest impact in the film, for taking…

    • 990 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    using the symbolic interaction paradigm. We have come to the consensus, as a group, that abortion does contribute to the corruption of today’s society simply because it is such a heated issue and therefore people choose sides. When people choose sides, and are unable to look at a situation from another person’s point of view, there tends to be corruption. Symbolic interactionism is a theoretical perspective that people use definitions, meanings, symbols, interpretations, and human interactions to compare…

    • 1480 Words
    • 6 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Good Essays

    Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory Critique Gavin Herbst February 24, 2014 CRJU 3000-WT1: Criminal Justice Theory (3) Dr. Harvey McMurray, Ph.D. Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory Critique Mead developed a psychological theory based on three variables that are qualitative rather than quantitative. This is to say that the three variables that make up his theory being “the self, me and I cannot be measured. The three independent variables mead uses are language, play and game. These are also qualitative…

    • 703 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays