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Symbolic Interactionism

By jparodi1 Jul 23, 2013 1197 Words
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 responds back. The responses that the listener provides back to the speaker are crafter in expectations of how the original speaker will react. From my previous experience with children, and further interactions that I will be making, I will be able to help students grow physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. “In symbolic interactionism, language is part of a purposed conveying of ideas and feelings between those who take each other into account in some way” (Gallant, Kleinman, 1983, p. 6). Mead's interpretive theory of symbolic interactionism has helped me better understand how interactions and using proper language, to create meaning will assist me in advancing my student's cognitive ability. Without communication, teachers would not be able to teach.

Communication theory is vital to society. Griffin (2012) offers a working definition for the term communication, he described communication as "the relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response" (p. 6). This term is a broad concept, but "it is used every day by thousand and thousands of people - by public relations practitioners, technical writers, information campaigners, advertising professionals, organization consultants, educators, health communicators, and many, many others" (Olson, Signitzer, Windahl, 2009, p. 1). The specific communication theory of symbolic interactionism lays hand in hand with direct communication because "this phrase captures what Mead claimed is the most human and humanizing activity that people can engage in - talking to each other" (Griffin, 2012, p. 54). Communication theory is important because it helps one understand how to communicate to all types of people and organizations and prepares one to be equipped to overcome any difficulties with communication.

In this paper, I have illustrated the knowledge that I have acquired over the semester about communication theory and George Herbert Mead's theory of symbolic interactionism. The three core concepts of Mead’s theory have given me a better understanding of how this theory could be utilized in my everyday life. As an assistant teacher, it is important to interact and communicate with my students in order for them to succeed. As a future educator, I am going to continue my studies to learn more about symbolic interactionism, so I can apply my knowledge in my future classroom. By understanding different models and different outlooks of communication, one can understand where people are coming from and how to respond without any miscommunication or difficulties in the process.


Allen, J. (2009). Valuing practice over theory: How beginning teachers re-orient their practices in the transition from the university to the workplace. Teaching and Teacher Education. 25(5). doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2008.11.011, Carlson, E. (2012). Precepting and symbolic interactionism- a theoretical look at preceptorship clinical practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 35(2). 457-464. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012. 06047.x. Gallant, M & Kleinman, S. (1983). Symbolic interactionism vs. ethnomethodology. Society for the Study of Symbolic Interactionism. 6(1). 1-18. doi: 10.1525/si.1983.6.1.1 . Griffin, E. (2012). A first look at communication theory (8th ed.). New York: Mc Graw-Hill. Olson, J. Signitzer, & B. Windahl, S. (2009). Using Communication Theory: An Introduction to Planned Communication. California: SAGE Publication, Ltd. Smit, B. (2008). Understanding teacher identity from a symbolic interactionist perspective. South African Journal of Education, 28(1). Retrieved from pid= S0256-01002008000100006&script=sci_arttext

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