Saturday, February 18, 2012

Social interaction

Symbolic interaction, also known as interactionism, is a sociological theory that places emphasis on micro-scale social interaction to provide subjective meaning in human behavior, the social process and pragmatism.

Herbert Blumer (1969) set out three basic premises of the perspective:
  • "Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things."
  • "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society."
  • "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 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 does not allow for interpretation between stimulus and response. Blumer believed that the term symbolic interactionism has come into use as a label for relatively distinctive approach to the study of human group life and human conduct. (Blumer, 8). Other scholars he credits in this field are, Mead, Dewey, Thomas, Park, James, Horton, Cooley, Znaniecki, Baldwin, Redfield, and Wirth.[4]

The emphases on symbols, negotiated meaning, and social construction of society brought on attention to the roles people play. Erving Goffman (1958) was a social theorist who studied roles dramaturgically, through the analogy of theater, to describe human social behavior as roughly following a script and humans as role-playing actors. Role-taking is a key mechanism that permits people to see another person's perspective to understand what an action might mean to another person. There is an improvisational quality of roles; however, actors often take on a script that they follow. Because of the uncertainty of roles in social contexts, the burden of role-making is on the person in the situation. In this sense, we are proactive participants in our environment.[5]

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