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Society Is Like:
A Human Body (Functionalism)
A League Table (Marxism)
A Play (Interactionism)
A League Table (Feminism)
A Theme Park (Post-Modernism)
In sociology, interactionism is a theoretical
perspective that derives social processes (such as
conflict, cooperation, identity formation) from
human interaction. It is the study of individuals and
how they act within society.
Interactionism: “A theoretical position assuming
that the individual is not only influenced by his/her
environment, but that s/he also influences his/her
environment. The emphasis is on the person
taking an active, or constructive, part in his/her
Social Actions
For social interactionists, people negotiate their social world by adapting to
different situations. These situations are largely considered to be the result of
actions taken by others.
Interactions take place between two or more individuals, and include all uses of
language, exchange, confrontation and working with others. The goal of all such
interactions is communication and meaning making.
Individuals interpret social actions symbolically to give meaning to their
interactions. The meaning of these symbols is itself a matter of social construction.
Social Process
Social interactionists think of social organization as the result of continually
changing social processes. Social interactionists think that social factors are
constantly in flux as actors adapt to changing circumstances and relationships. They
are opposed to functionalists, who think that social structures tend towards stability
and consistency.
Social interactionists observe how people both create and enact roles in order to
negotiate their social situations in a process called dramaturgy, in much the same
way stage actors play roles on a stage. Social roles are themselves considered a kind
of symbol which individuals act out in accord with their situation.
Keynotes of Interactionism
 Micro-Emphasizes individuals
 Focus on subjective aspects of social life
 Studies communication between individuals and groups
 Communicates with symbols which are meaningful
 Deviance and individual differences are more tolerated
 For social interactionists, people negotiate their social
world by adapting to different situations.
Interactionism is normally considered to consist
of three possible variations:
Symbolic Interaction
Symbolic Interaction
Symbolic interactionism, or interactionism for short, is one of the major theoretical
perspectives in sociology. This perspective has a long intellectual history, beginning
with the German sociologist and economist, Max Weber (1864-1920) and the
American philosopher, George H. Mead (1863-1931), both of whom emphasized the
subjective meaning of human behavior, the social process, and pragmatism. In
symbolic interactionism, humans are portrayed as acting as opposed to being acted
In sociology, phenomenology seeks to reveal how human awareness is implicated in
the production of social action, social situations and social worlds (Natanson 1970).
A branch of the social sciences which is concerned with exploring how people
interact with the world and make sense of reality. It is not designed to provide people
with judgments on human behavior or its causes, but rather to explain how people
interact with each other and with society at large.
Interactionist perspectives tend to concentrate on relatively small-scale levels of
social interaction (between individuals, small social groups and so forth) and, for
this reason, they are sometimes referred-to as a "micro level of sociological
The basic ideas that Interactionist sociologists have in common (and which make
them different in many respects to macro perspectives like Functionalism and
Marxist Conflict theories) can be summarised as follows in the next 3 slides:
1. They focus on the way in which individuals (or
"social actors" as Interactionists like to call them) act
(that is, make conscious choices about their behavior
based upon the way they interpret situations) -
rather than simply react to social stimulation.
2. The way in which different social actors interpret
the behavior of others is significant as a means of
understanding the way in which the world is socially
This "social construction" of the world is focused upon
the meanings people give to behavior and the way in
which they interpret the meaning of behavior.
3. The social context within which people interact is
significant for both their interpretation of the
behavior of others and the way they themselves
choose to behave at any given time.
Notables in developing Interactionism
• Walter Mischel (1930- )
• Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)
• George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)
• Herbert Blumer (1900-1987)
• Irving (Erving) Goffman (1922-1982)
 Developed
the theory of
“A personality system is characterized by available cognitive and affective
units…When certain configurations of situation features are experienced
by the individual…, a subset of cognitions and affects become activated.”
Noted for concepts:
of “primary group”
the “looking glass self.”
 “Father
of Symbolic
 Called
his approach “social
 “I”
= self-conception
 “Me”
= views of others
 Coined
the term “symbolic
 Student
of Mead
 Interactionism
= practical
approach to scientific study of
human conduct
 The
Presentation of Self in
Everyday Life
 “The
Shakespeare of
 Dramaturgy
Interactionists see humans as
active, creative participants who
construct their social world and
not as passive, conforming objects
of socialization.
 Actors
produce patterns of interaction
 Social
structure guides human behavior rather
than rigidly determining it
Theory is vague
hard to summarize
Lacks clarity
Differing interpretations
Some theorists overstate their case
different people have attached different meanings to the theory
as when Mead differentiates humans from other animals
Assessment may be unreliable
subjective measures