Social interactionism: an introduction, an interpretation, an integration
A theory is a coherent group of general propositions that are tested, regarded as correct and can be used as principles (Thomas, 2012: p243). Through the study of sociology and other disciplines, different theories have been developed. These theories are developed with an aim of explaining different facts and events experienced by human beings. Some of the proved theories include interactions theory, labeling theory, structural functionalism theory, moral panic theory, conflict theory among others. Interactionism theory refers to the ways people approach questions relating to social cognition (Partington, 2009:p.91). It provides the basis of how one person understands the other. It focuses on environmental contexts and body behaviors rather than mental processes. It brings an argument against two different contemporary approaches that are the simulation theory and theory (TT).
Social interactionism theory explains language development emphasizing on the role of social interaction between linguistically knowledgeable adults and a developing child (Leeman, 2008:p.37). It is largely based on socio-cultural theories invented by soviet psychologist. There are other theories closely linked with interactionism theory. Such theories include Labeling theory, Moral panic theory, structural functionalism theory, conflict theory among others. This paper critically explores and analyses interactionist theories of crime and deviance. It gives a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the theories. Labeling theory, moral panics, structural functioning and conflict theories are also analyzed. The whole report introduces different theories, how they are developed, merits and demerits, and how they are related to human living.
Interactionists study the impacts that theories such as labeling have on people (Yang, 2007:p.1525). They are critical theories of right wing such as the right realism, new right, and functionalism. They claim that social control agents, such as police, are fair, unbiased and just. Though the study conducted by Cicourel shows how these agents like police hold typifications leading to prophecy of self fulfilling. Interactionism theory opposes theories of social structure held by theories of Right Wing. It has a belief that it gets free will instead of having a passive reaction to the society. It is believed that people stops interpreting a situation even before choosing which action to take.
Sociologically, interactionism being a theoretical perspective derives social processes like cooperation, conflict, and identity formation from human interaction (Nisbett, 2012:p.109). It gives a study of how people act within the society. For the last half of the 21st century, interactionism theory has become the most sociological perspective dominant in the world. Its development has been facilitated by an advocate of subjectivity of social reality and pragmatism, George Herbert Mead. Later, Herbert Blumer reviewed Mead’s work and invented symbolic interactionism theory. Interactionism has been subdivided into phenomenology, social action, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, and social constructionism (Manzon, 2007:p3).
Interactionism is micro-sociological in nature. It has a belief that any meaning is obtained through individual interactions. Social interaction refers to a face-to-face process comprising of reactions, actions, and mutual adaptation existing between individuals (Gallagher, 2010:p.441). The aim of social interaction is to facilitate communication between different people. Control is an important tool in the interaction process. During interaction, one must try to control the behavior of other people. This is important as it facilitates acquiring of information one is seeking and controls one’s own image. “Presentation of self” and “social role” is the most important concept in the field of interactionism.
Interactionists are interested in understanding individuals and their actions within the society (Farral, 2012: p.392). They do not agree with class as an issue they reject the notion of generalizing that people from one social class thinks the same. They have a belief that every person has different values, attitudes, culture and beliefs. They reject structuralism methods preferred by structuralisms on statistical data. These rejected methods include; structured interviews, experiments, questionnaires, secondary sources and non-participant observation (Preacher, 2007:p.188). They criticize that; statistical data is ‘invalid’. They say that statistical data do not provide people with true societal picture on the topic under research.
Secondly, they criticize that the research is not objective as it is biased. They argue that the research is biased because of the hypothesis of a pre-set conclusion (Rosenhan, 2009: p.213). They advocate for several methods to contrast structuralism methods such as, unstructured interviews, overt participant observation, and covert participant observation. They also give a historical analysis, personal and public documents through content analysis. Interactionists criticize that data provided are not reliable. This is because sociological research and information cannot be contrasted or compared.
Despite their criticisms, interactionism methods are not flexible. Lack of hypotheses shows that a sociologist is not required giving an attempt of proving a theory or dogma; instead they work on what they discover. This results to unreliable information as the sociologist is not allowed to have any assumption concerning the society. Research has also shown that interactions such as socialization affects and alters human behavior (Pr eacher,2008:p.879). This theory links us to other theories such as Neo-Marxism and pluralism.
It is a theory with an idea that public gets what they want. It has a notion that people’s lives offer choices such as representative democracy. Consumer choice is an idea that means each has the ability as a consumer to change any life aspect if he/she wishes to do so (Gala, 2008: p.273). According to pluralism theory, reflection of the values, norms, and beliefs of the majority exists. Interactionism theory exists in different forms that are social and symbolic interactionism.
It emphasizes on the micro-processes by which people construct identities, meanings, and joint acts (Anderson, 2009:p.373). It accentuates how interaction, symbols, and human agency serve as the cornerstone of people’s social life. This theory is a sociological perspective with many influential areas of the discipline. It is mostly significant in social psychology and micro sociology. It is a product of two key theorists, Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead.
Basic approach and premises
Symbolic interactionism has been used as a label in a distinctive relative approach to the study of human conduct and human life. It has made reality be seen as a social interaction developed with others. Symbolic Interactionists believe that physical reality exists through an individual’s social definitions (Aram, 2009:p.98). The theory has proved that people do not respond directly to the reality but rather to the understanding of social reality. Human beings therefore, exist in three a social reality, physical reality, and a unique reality (Becker, 2009:p.29). Physical reality comprises of natural facts and material necessities. Unique reality shows a person’s ability to view things in a new way, do something unique, or make a unique discovery. Lastly, social reality shows that a person has a socialized world conception such as economic structure and gender role. The theory has proved that both the society and individuals are two inseparable items. They are created through social interaction, and none can be understood in the absence of the other (Ritzer, 2010p.896).
Central ideas behind symbolic interactionism
A person has to be understood as a social being. Constant search in the social interaction contributes to how human beings behave. Symbolic interactionism does not focus on the personality of a person or how society causes human behavior. Its focus is based on the activities taking place between actors (Charon, 2009: p.210). Individuals and society are both created through interaction. Social interaction serves as the central point of what a person does.
A person has to be understood as a thinking being. Action of a human being is both an interaction among the individual and within the individual. Human ideas, attitudes or values are not as important as the constant active thinking process undergoing in a human being. The theory states that if a person wants to understand something, he or she must focus on thinking.
A person does not sense his or her environment directly, but define his or her current situation. Even though the environment exists, what is important is how a person defines it. The definition does not happen randomly, but it is as a result of ongoing thinking and social interaction (Manzon, 2012: p.637).
Human action is caused by the results of what is occurring in today’s life. It results from the present thinking, social interaction, definition, and present definition (Ferback, 2011: p.677). These present activities lead to actions and not the past experience. Experience enters primarily to the present actions as we think about it and use it to define the present situation.
Human beings are known to be active as far as their environment is concerned. In symbolic interaction, a human being is not described using words such as conditioning, controlled, responding, formed, and imprisoned. Social-scientific perspectives describe human beings as active in what they do, but not passive to their surroundings (Athens, 2013: p.408).
Central interactions principles
It is a principle that puts more emphasis on willful, active, goal seeking character of human actors (cousins, 2008:p.151). The emphasis of this principle focuses on the attention of those events, actions and social life moments. These agentic actions of a human agency are known to be palpable.
It is a principle that specifies understanding focal analysis of the objects (Partington, 2009: p.366). It specifies the analysis whether they are identities, self-concepts, practices, roles, or even social movement. This means that the society, individual, self, or others exist only when related to each other thus they are fully understood through their interaction.
It highlights the processes by which conditions and events, people, artifacts and other environmental characteristics with certain meanings become objects of orientation. A person’s behavior is contingent partly on the meaning and symbolization of the object of orientation (Preacher, 2010:p.407).
Its focus is on the attention of the non habituated and procession side of life. It focuses not only the texture and organization of social life, but also the associated feelings and meaning (Rouger, 2009: p.261). It emphasizes on the possibility of new forms of system meaning and social life together with the existing transformations.
Symbolic interactionism has always been criticized because of being over impressionistic in their methods of research. They have also been criticized for their theories being unsystematic. Critics argue that symbolic interactionism is not a single theory (Anderson, 2009: p.489). However, it operates as a framework of many theories. Some prominent theorists criticize the theory due to lack of testability which creates a problem when using the theory. These problems made the interactionism theory camp are relegated to a minority position in the field of sociologists.
Frame work and theories
Some of its critiques are based on the fact that it is assumed to be a theory, but it does not have a good basis of a theory. Its framework is too general and broad that creates a problem when theorists are seeking a theory. According to Stryker (2003: p.123), symbolic interaction is not a theory but rather a theoretical framework.
It is a theory that is always connected and related to social structure. The study suggests that it is used in constructing social reality of people (Ritzer, 2010:p.837). There exist many factors and aspects that surround symbolic interactionism theory. These aspects include critical issues of sociology and methodological criticisms.
Strengths of interactionism’ theory
Interactionist theory is mostly based on the work of George Herbert an American psychologist and a philosopher. It takes an assumption that people learn how to react and act to different circumstances concerning their societal interactions. It attributes cooperation, conflict and identity beliefs of how people perceive others around them. It is attributed to the following strengths/ advantages.
It suggests that learners within similar cultural settings view many ideas in the same way. Teachers apply this similarity as a benefit when planning for a lesson. Through the use of different ways of giving instruction instead of books, teachers are able to incorporate culture and society in the classrooms (Denzin, 2012:p.121). It helps students to retain the content as the materials used by the students are more appealing due to their similarities.
The theory indicates that learning happens with more ease if learners are subjected to constant demonstration of the content they are to learn (Kinney, 2010: p.896). These demonstrations are conflict resolution, speech and perceptions. It suggests that a learner in a class of foreign language has an advantage of learning materials if there is a consistent repetition of the language.
Learning through association takes place on cultural generations where younger members emulate their elders. This is a benefit of interactionism theory. It helps in maintaining dialects, cultural traditions and ways of life (Preacher, 2010:p.916). Using this theory, children are able to learn how to speak from their parents and grandparents.
Ability to change
The theory bases the ability of people to learn from their surrounding and culture. The advantage behind this idea is that all people are responsible of their own abilities. The theory states that people acquire knowledge through observation (Newburn, 2010:p.310). It suggests that everyone who wishes to become intelligent, he or she should move to areas with more people who are academically minded and interact with them.
Weakness of interactionism theory
This theory is based on the principles and assumptions of symbolic interactionism. These assumptions include the meaning obtained when people interact with others. People responds to things and to other people according to the meanings attached to them (Denzin, 2012: p.369). The problem of this theory is that it is unable to explain where people obtain the meaning of these symbols. Another weakness is that the theory emphasizes more on symbols that may be interpreted wrongly or differently.
It is a theory indicating how individual’s behavior and self-identity may be influenced or determined by the terms used to classify or describe them (Reeves, 2009: p.631). It is a theory associated with concepts of stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecy. It emphasizes that deviance is not inherent to an act. Its focus is based on the way people label others from their standards of cultural norms. Some developments concerning the theory have been made since 1970s. Terms applied in this theory are related to disability, deviance or diagnosis of mental disorder has been rejected. This theory is closely related to symbolic-interaction and social-construction analysis.
Mostly, this theory concerns itself, not with roles that are normal and defines people’s lives, but with special roles provided by the society for stigmatic roles, deviant roles, or social stigma (Bernburg, 2010:p.68). Social roles refer to set expectations people have about a certain behavior. They are necessary for the functioning of any organization or a society. Researchers found that roles that are deviant affect how people perceive the ones assigned those roles. They also have an impact of on how the deviant actor sees himself and how he is related to the society.
This refers to an intense feeling that is expressed in a population concerning an issue appearing to threaten the normal social order (Critcher, 2009: p.17). Study shows that it occurs when episode, person, condition or group of people is defined as a threat to interests and societal values. In reality, they are the controversies involving social tension and arguments where disagreement becomes difficult as its center matter is a taboo. Moral panics are associated with several distinct characteristics.
The first is a concern which states that awareness must be made indicating that the group’s behavior has negative effects to the society.
This indicates that the hostility of the group in question increases resulting to a clear division.
Though the concern in moral panics does not have to be widespread, a nationwide acceptance of the group in question is required as it gives a real threat to society.
They are highly volatile indicating that their chances of disappearing are very high. This is due to a wane in the news report or public interests changing to a different topic.
It refers to a framework used in constructing a theory that perceives society being a complex system combining work together to promote stability and solidarity (Danaldson, 2009: p.1). It is an approach that views society in a macro-level orientation. This gives a broad focus relating to social structures that shape the whole society believing that it evolved like organisms. It is an approach that examines both social functions and social structure. It addresses the role of society’s constituent elements as a whole which include customs, norms, traditions, and institutions. The theory was intended to give a description of a level in the social science methodological development, but not a specified school of thought. Its approach is a macro sociological analysis which focuses broadly on social structures shaping the whole society.
It is a sociological perspective that emphasizes on political, social, or material inequality of a given social group (Dutton, 2010: p.680).They draw attention relating to power differentials such as class conflict, and it is used to give a general contrast concerning dominant historical ideologies. It analyzes the society at the macro-level like structural functionalism. It is a set out theory for highlighting inherent ideological aspects that are inherent in traditional thought.
Conclusively, different theories have given different causes of artifacts and events. Among the discussed theories in the essay, interactionism theory appears to be the most wide and broad form of theory. These theories have been viewed by different sociologists where some are recommended, and others criticized. Interactionism is the most criticized the theory as a result of its weaknesses in providing reliable information. This theory has also been attributed to some advantages that are beneficial to both the teacher and learners. Sustaining cultural norms and traditions has also been facilitated by development of theories. Theories should be made clear and precise to avoid creating confusions to the members of the society.
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