Symbolic Interactionsim

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7 March 2016

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Since the beginning of Symbolic Interactionsim, when George Herbert Mead coined the theory, despite its lack of official information, anyone who studies the theory can see how it relates and is true to most, if not all human beings and the culture that they derive from. In this paper, it will discuss the theory; provide examples from people who have studied this specific theory more in depth, as well as my personal opinions about the view on this theory as well as the results that have come from it. This paper will also, if more than anything, will show more insight into despite the actual facts and testing on Symbolic Interactionism, it is more focused on how human beings are naturally wired and how it affects their thought process and moods.


Symbolic Interactionism A Review of the Literature
When George Mead invented the Symbolic Interactionism Theory, he coined it with three specific that made up “the core” of what Symbolic Interactionism was: Meaning, Language, and Thought. Professor Duncan, who is an author of a book called Symbols and Social Theory acknowledges Mead as probably doing the “best job at explaining social as an action”. Duncan also goes to say that because of the issue of environment and the ways in which actions and events happen, it is also worthy of considering for an arguable spot in the form of Symbolic Interactionism.

In the same article, the discussion of our meanings behind our actions in our society also comes into play. Hewitt in Self and Society presents that between social and individual objects, there is indeed a difference. He claims that an important aspect as to recognizing the difference is to always keep in mind that during interactions, people are indeed a social object. They feed off of interaction from other human beings as also feeding off of their “Looking Glass Self” that is also discussed in the overview for the Symbolic Theory.

In this specific theory, meaning is everything. As discussed by Herbert Blumer, one of Mead’s students, there are three basic points behind the emphasis of meanings. 1) Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings that things have for them. 2) The meanings of things derive from social interaction, and 3) these meanings are dependent on, and modified by, an interpretive process of the people who interact with one another. The whole emphasis on meanings with the Symbolic Interactionism Theory, in retrospect, all goes back to the “cause and effect” motion. Any cause relates to an effect, thus any meaning has an action and thought behind that action; which is why some people take different meanings differently than others because some interactions cause different meanings and understanding to different people.

The environment in which someone is in also affects the way someone responds to meanings or the signs behind them. Mead’s view of “The Generalized Other” also has a part to play in this. In Mead’s “Generalized Other”, he defines it as the composite mental image of the way we form the community. In different cities, states, even countries, every society and culture is a little different. The two composites of this has to do with how we view ourselves, and the expectancy of the society we live in and how they expect us to be. As F. Scott Christopher puts it, who wrote about symbolic interactionism and how it affects the opposite sex, he says, “Culture is the world of objects in which human beings live”.

Aside from symbolic interactionism focusing on human beings in general or just specific individual people, this theory has also been tested on families as well. With families being a core unit and knowing each other’s symbols and meanings well, it seems only right to test out a theory such as this on them. Families are probably the best ways to study and research the truth in the statements made in Mead’s theory.

William Thomas and Florian Znaniecki were some of the earliest applicants for testing theory. This particular study focused on the transformation and adjustments on the specific family patterns in peasant polish communities during the process of immigration to the United States in the early 1900’s. The major themes that they conducted in their analysis to make this study and hypothesis verified were: Socialization, adaption, definition formation, role making, and lastly self concept development. A lot of the family dynamic and observation that has happened or did happen in this specific study, showed a lot of role conceptions within the opposite sex. Also, based on another study (Hochschild 1989) they showed emphasis on role making, role definition, role negotiation, and even role identity within the family. Another study that was made on the family dynamic of symbolic interactionism also had to do with families with children. On two different specific studies, (Gecas and Schwalbe 1986; Peterson and Rollins 1987) they both dealt with the socialization of children. It has been proven that the socialization of children is one of the few remaining functions of the family in modern societies. Most of the socialization falls on the gender, self esteem, and filial identities.

Cross cultural experiences also add to parts of the theory. This cross cultural research has shown how family relations are gone about in certain ethnic regions and how the cultural linguistics in the communication context shape and evolve family and identity interactions (Luo and Wiseman 2000). Mboya (1993) gives an example of the ways that children from South Africa relate to their perceptions of how their own parents behave and react to certain situations. The research on Chinese families (Cheng 2000) by Simon Cheng on child mechanisms by socialization also showed how Chinese families who have immigrated to the United States and raised children there are “socially structured, negotiated, and maintained through parent-child interactions related to that culture. The last part of this paper will have to do with my opinions are certain parts of the Symbolism Interactionism.

With the different parts that hold within the Symbolism Interactionism Theory, “The looking glass self” and the “generalized other” are the main things that every human being succumbs to and whether they realize it or not, it is what controls their thoughts and the meanings behind their actions. Everyone wants to be accepted by their society whether they claim to be a rebel or whether they see their self as a normal, average, hardworking citizen. How they view themselves is all a mirror on how society views them or how they want society to view them. Essentially, we all have the ability to be anything we want to be and perceive ourselves in a different role than from how we really are.

Lastly, everything that I got from learning about the Symbolic Interactionism Theory in just about every way really makes sense and I am able to see the truth of the theory in every human interaction whether that is from my own normal daily interactions or from human interactions I see on the news, media, etc. it all relates to the things that Mead brought up all those years ago when he coined the theory and brought it to light. I find it really interesting that even we do not think about it or even think that we do, we all in some aspect, succumb to the self fulfilling prophecy, the looking glass self, and/ or the generalized other. The fact that there is no escaping even one of these is completely mind blowing to me because it is so spot on with everyone’s personality no matter what it is.

I think that just proves that Mead’s hypothesis and study of what he created, was so in depth and so beyond his time, that it was only normal for people to criticize it, and even still do the same today. All in all, I am so proud that I was able to do this paper on Mead’s Symbolic Interactionism and besides understand other human beings better, I was able to understand myself and the way I perceive things better as well. I think that whether or not anyone actually goes into depth studying this theory, which does not really concern me, because realistically, even if you do not know the name, everyone is living their own version of the Symbolic Interactionism Theory.

Works Cited cle4.pdf. (n.d.). Symbolic interactionism . (n.d.).
“Interactionism, Symbolic.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. (October 30, 2013 Manning, Philip and D. R. Maines. 2003. “Editorial Introduction: Theory and Method in Symbolic Interactionism.” Symbolic Interaction 26(4):497-500.

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"Symbolic Interactionsim" StudyScroll, Mar 7, 2016.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Symbolic Interactionsim. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 4-Oct-2022]

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