Symbolic Interaction Theory


Symbolic Interaction is a theory that human interaction and communication is facilitated by words, gestures, and other symbols that have acquired conventionalized meanings.
Symbolic interactionism was developed by thinkers such George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer in the 20th century. Mead believed that one’s self develops through social interactions. Moreover, how people communicate and interact with each other depends on how they interpret factors such as language, actions, and statuses (potential symbols).

The theory of symbolic interactionism draws on three important parts: meaning, language, and thought. People assign different meanings to objects or people they come into contact with and act differently depending on the specific meaning they’ve given that person or thing. To express themselves to each other, people create language as a set of symbols to give names to the different meanings we find in the world. Finally, people use thought to examine their beliefs and change their interpretation of things based on new information they’ve learned about the object or person.

How it works in Our Everyday Life

If Mary is attracted to Paul but Paul does not share these feelings, the two will act differently toward each other. Mary will interpret Paul’s actions as possible signs that he likes her since she has assigned him the symbolic meaning of being a potential boyfriend. Paul still sees Mary as only a friend and acts this way toward her. If Mary were to admit her feelings to Paul, he might see her differently and she would have affected the symbolic meaning he has given her. This is a prime example of symbolic interactionism at work in everyday life.

Symbolic Interactionism Theory can be applied to many facets of the social work knowledge base, including human behavior theory, social work practice models, theories of social problems, the planned change process, social work research, professional socialization procedures, and social policy analysis.

Symbols are social objects that successfully communicate or stimulate common meanings assigned by society members created by their interaction over time. Examples of symbols are uniforms that may communicate authority, colors or shapes that signal stop or go commands, a hand gesture that communicates a greeting or departure. These objects are all understood to have important meaning and therefore are symbolic to the society from which they are being used.
With internal dialoguing(Using Language) humans are able to make indications from social interaction in order to negotiate meaning and rehearse appropriate action in response to a situation.The actor, shaped by the environment and target audience, sees interaction as a performance. Impression management is highly dependent on the situation.

An individual’s mind carries within it the meanings and symbols it has learned in the individual’s lifetime. Thought is the internal conversation and the self is whom a person converses with internally. “Mental activity is a conversation with self” (Davetian, 2009). The mind is where meaning, negotiation, restrain, rehearsal, problem-solving ability, and judgments are created. The self is actually produced by the mind.

Symbolic interactionists are often criticized for being overly impressionistic in their research methods and somewhat unsystematic in their theories. It is argued that the theory is not one theory; however, the framework for many different theories. Additionally, due to the theories lack of testability, some theorist have a problem with symbolic interaction theory.

These objections, combined with the fairly narrow focus of interactionist research on small-group interactions and other social psychological issues, have relegated the interactionist camp to a minority position among sociologists, although a fairly substantial minority. Much of the criticism arose during the 1970s in the U.S. when quantitative approaches to sociology were dominant.

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