Symbolic Interactionism

Topics: Sociology, Symbolic interactionism, Looking glass self Pages: 7 (2313 words) Published: April 10, 2014
Sociology 10
Professor Arkadie
Symbolic Interaction Perspective
There are several sociological perspectives including functionalism, conflict, social exchange, and sociological imagination. The one that will be talked about within this paper is called symbolic interaction. Symbolic interaction does not focus on social structure like other sociological perspectives do, symbolic interaction is based on small, mostly person to person ideas and perspectives on what symbols mean between people in cultures, what interaction is like, and how interaction between people can impact or reflect upon society as a whole. (Gingrich) Symbolic interaction is defined as “How 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” (Gingrich). In simpler terms, people make their decisions based on how much that decision is going to affect them, and whether or not society will judge them for making that decision. Symbolic interaction focuses on how people communicate with one another through everyday interactions, and how people perceive and define events. Every interaction has an effect on individuals; each individual goes into each interaction with their own perspectives. Everyone has specific expectations of what should happen within each interaction. This theory primarily concentrates on the use of symbols in society. Since, human beings place a symbol on almost everything, scientists must use four major tactics to understand these symbols: definitions, meanings, interpretation, and interactions. These symbols could include hand gestures, body language, use of language, and any inanimate object.

Three major contributors to the theory of Symbolic Interactionism include Charles Horton Cooley, Jane Addams and George Herbert Mead. Charles Horton Cooley's single idea of the development of one's sense of self alone provided the foundation for symbolic interactionism. Cooley was intrigued by the idea of "self" and how this sense of "self" is developed throughout life and which factors contribute to that development. "In his own works, Cooley sought to highlight the connection between society and the individual and felt that the two could only be understood in relationship to each other. He coined the concept of "looking-glass self" which later influenced George Herbert Mead's theory of self and symbolic interactionism." (Charles Horton Cooley) According to Cooley, the concept of "looking-glass self" is based upon one's interactions with others and react accordingly based upon their perceptions. Addams, however, believed that one's perception of another can be either dismantled or changed through new acquired information about that person, this idea is known as sympathetic knowledge. Conferring to the looking-glass self theory, we react according to what we believe other's perceptions of us are, but through further interaction and gained knowledge between two individuals, those perceptions can be shifted, thus shifting our own perception of ourselves.    The Symbolic Interactionist perspective looks at the finer details in the development of the "self" rather than examining the picture as a whole. George Herbert Mead, as founder of the symbolic interaction theory, argued that "individual selves are the products of social interaction and not the logical or biological preconditions of that interaction. It is not initially there at birth, but arises in the process of social experienced activity" (Crossman). Mead's major concepts within symbolic interaction include "the role of the other," "generalized other," and the "'I' and 'Me.'" Mead believed that "language allows individuals to take on the 'role of the other' and allows people to respond to his or her own gestures in terms of the symbolized attitude of others" (Crossman). His concept of the "generalized other" can be explained as an individual being able to see himself...


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Mahwah. “To Dance the Dance: A Symbolic Interactional Exploration of Premarital Sexuality.” New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2001.
Schumm, LaRossa R. “Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Conceptual Approach.” New York: New York Plenum, 2000.
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