Social action theory (interactionist theory) Main Points • Social action theorists or interactionist sociologists, reject the view that social behaviour is primarily determined by society, its social structures and institutions. They believe that people have a much more proactive role in shaping social life. • Chris Brown (2010) argues that most people engage in voluntary behaviour. They have free will. Main points • It is a micro theory. Key Points • Although social action theorists argue that people operate as individuals, they argue that people are aware of other people around them and the attitudes and actions of other people influence the way people think and behave. • Example – synoptic links – draw in material from other topics to illustrate the above point. Main points • Social action theorists/interactionists argue that when we are interacting with other people in certain social contexts/situations we are constantly searching for symbolic behaviour which gives us an indication of how people are interpreting our behaviour e.g frowning symbolises social disapproval. • We may then modify our behaviour (if deemed appropriate) in subsequent similar social contexts to fit expectations. Main points • So experience of symbolic interaction results in people acquiring knowledge about what is appropriate behaviour in particular situations. We learn that particular contexts demand particular social responses. • Example • Drinking and dancing at a party is acceptable bt similar behaviour at a funeral is not. Main points • Social action theorists also argue that society is the product of people interacting in social groups and trying to make sense of their own and each other’s behaviour. Key Points • Social Action approaches do not deny the existence of roles, norms and values but they see these as flexible guidelines rather than rigid frameworks over which we have no control. • Thus our roles as mothers, students or workers are open to individual interpretation and negotiation. Key Points – Socialisation and Identity • Social action theorists argue that socialisation involves learning how to interact with and interpret the actions of other people in any given situation. • Socialisation also results in individuals acquiring a social identity, which is an identity which corresponds with how society expects those in a particular role to behave. For example mothers are expected to be selfless, nurturing and loving and so mothers will attempt to live up to this description and acquire this social identity. Key Points – Labelling theory • Type of social action theory. • Looks at the labels that those with a degree of power apply to those with less and the consequences and effects of labels on a persons self esteem, self concept and subsequent behaviour. • Argues that there is no such thing as a right or wrong act. An act only becomes deviant for example when a dominant group defines and labels it as such. Key Points – Labelling theory • Suggests that being labelled publicly as deviant has important consequences for individuals in terms of self-concept. • That is, they often come to see themselves in the light of the label and it can become a person’s master status. • This label of deviant can have a major impact on access to future opportunities. It can also amplify deviance and lead to the formation of deviant subcultures. Key Points • Interactionists such as Becker (1971) argue that the police and social workers etc have a construct of the typical delinquent which colours they way they view the behaviour of groups that fit the label. • Consequently those who fit the label are more likely to be labelled as deviants and criminalised than those who do not fit the image, which highlights the idea that criminal statistics are both flawed and a social construction. Key studies • Jock Young – The Drugtakers. The social meaning of drug abuse McGibbon and Kee, 1971. • Edwin Lemert – ‘Stuttering among the North Pacific coastal Indians’ Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 1952. • Howard Becker - Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press, 1963 • Cicourel - The Social Organisation of Juvenile Justice, Heinemann, 1976 Challenges to social action theory • It does not pay sufficient attention to the structures of society, such as social class, gender and ethnicity and the constraints on individual behaviour that come from these structures. • Defining deviance • Some acts are always going to be seen as deviant. Premeditated killing for personal gain is always going to be regarded as deviant in our society – Taylor, Walton and Young (1973). Therefore some sociologists would argue that it is possible to define deviance in Challenges to social action theory • It does not explain the origins of deviant behaviour. • Labelling theory/interactionism fails to explain why some groups engage in what they know will be judged as deviant behaviour in the first place? Challenges to social action theory • Labelling theory is overly deterministic • It suggests that once labelled a deviant person will inevitably fit the mould. • People are seen as passive – controlled by the ‘man-on-hisback’ Alvin Gouldner 1975). Challenges to social action theory • Interactionists have not provided evidence that labelling amplifies or increases deviance – the effects of labelling are seen as ‘self-evident truths’ (Johannes Knutssen 1977) Challenges to social action theory • Interactionists fail to explain why some groups are labelled rather than others. • Why is a brawl among low income class youths delinquency while it is high spirits among high income youths? • Interactionism explains this in terms of labelling, but fails to explain why the reasons behind the labelling – and so does not really provide an explanation.