Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Symbolic Interactionism

A Social Network Analysis Diagram

Herbert Blumer (1969), who coined the term "symbolic interactionism," set out three basic premises of the perspective:

1. "Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things."
2. "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society."
3. "These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters."

Blumer, following Mead, claimed that people interact with each and other by interpret[ing] or 'defin[ing]' each other's actions instead of merely reacting to each other's actions. Their 'response' is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols and signification, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another's actions (Blumer 1962). Blumer contrasted this process, which he called "symbolic interaction," with behaviorist explanations of human behavior, which don't allow for interpretation between stimulus and response.

Symbolic interactionist researchers investigate how people create meaning during social interaction, how they present and construct the self (or "identity"), and how they define situations of co-presence with others. One of the perspective's central ideas is that people act as they do because of how they define situations.

Although symbolic interactionist concepts have gained widespread use among sociologists, the perspective has been criticized, particularly during the 1970s when quantitative approaches to sociology were dominant.

In addition to methodological criticisms, critics of the symbolic interactionism have charged that it is unable to deal with social structure (a fundamental sociological concern) and macrosociological issues. A number of symbolic interactionists have addressed these topics but their work has not gained as much recognition or influence as the work of those focusing on the interactional level.

Source: Wiki