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Symbolic Interactionism

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1 Symbolic Interactionism
Key premises of SI from Mead to Blumer

2 George H. Mead ( ) Mind, Self and Society (1934), The Philosophy of the Act (1938) emphasised the subjective meaning of human behaviour, the social process, and pragmatism. subjective aspects of social life, rather than on objective, macro-structural aspects of social systems Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them These meanings are a product of social interaction in society. These meanings are modified through a process of interpretation, which each individual deploys when dealing with the things that s/he encounters.

3 SI premises (2) society consists of organised and patterned interactions among individuals. Social research methods based on observable face-to-face interactions rather than on macro-level structural relationships involving social institutions. shifts focus away from stable norms and values toward more changeable, continually readjusting social processes. negotiation among members of society creates temporary, socially constructed relation This does no occur in a structural flux - we are 'schooled' to act and respond to others within existing social meanings.

4 SI basics SI advocates reject the micro-macro, subjective-objective dualisms Argue that there is no objective structure outside of individual experience/perception That social life is constructed by individuals in interaction with others. Hence, the lecture is concerned with a fundamental relations between (a) the reflexive self, (b) the way in which social roles and meanings evolve out of interaction between people and (c) the idea that society is the sum of human relations and consciousness rather than objective institutions.

5 The reflexive self (Ritzer 2000)
self-aware individual who consciously acts in the world. the reflexive individual emerges from processes of meaning-making, interpretation and social interaction. Humans generating signs or communicative codes via language (ie 'symbolic communication’) Firstly, the signs and symbols that constitute language allow people to develop a common symbolic and conceptual store which allows for nuanced and complex levels of negotiation. Through social interaction, people learn meanings and symbols that allow them to exercise thought. As people can develop subtle and complex forms of communication, they also enable more complex interactions to take place.

6 Ritzer continued Meanings and symbols allow people to carry out human action and interactions People alter meaning and symbols they use in interaction > Language and communication deepens our capacity to become reflexive (self-aware and aware of others) In addition to 'talking to others' we engage in 'talking to ourselves', that is, engaging in internal conversations when we are making decisions. The intertwined effects of action and interaction make up groups and societies. Thus, 'symbolic communication' is central to the ways that we make meaning This also reflects the SI claim that society amounts to the creative activity and that social change is brought about by processes of interaction.

7 Mead: The ‘I’ and the ‘Me’
‘I’ is the spontaneous unpredictable element of the self 'I' memory is a store of creativity, adaptability and novelty in the social process. Where our most important values are located Constitutes the realisation of the self - i.e. reveals a definite personality Seen as an evolutionary process

8 Mead – ‘I’ and ‘Me’ 'Me' is the conformist aspect of the self, and the reflexive, organised aspect of the self (Mead 1934: 197). Mead's concept of "playing the game”, where one must participate in a "conversation of gestures”, use " significant symbols, if one is to participate in society. Through this conversation, members playing the game are ‘socialised’ or made to conform to social system. We alternative between ‘I’ and ‘Me’.

9 Mead and ‘multiple selves/others’
Multiple Selves "... we divide ourselves up in all sorts of different selves with reference to our acquaintances." generalised other significant other. Each group has their own significant symbols in which they communicate with our "self" and we perpetuate triadic relations accordingly.

10 Charles Horton Cooley and the Looking Glass Self
Cooley’s ‘looking Glass Self’ ‘As we see our face, figure and dress in the glass, and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should lime them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another’s some though of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends and so on, and are variously affected by it. A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principle elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgement of that appearance; and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification . The comparison with a looking-glass hardly suggests the second element, the imagined judgement, which is quite essential )Cooley, 1902: 153).

11 Re-Cap. Basics of Symbolic Interactionism
There is no objective structure outside of individual experience/perception Social life is constructed by individuals in interaction with others The self is social because we are born into existing society BUT The self is bound by language (shared symbolic meanings ) and interaction. THUS the self can thus adopt various social roles.

12 Erving Goffman Stigma (1963) Interaction Ritual (1967), Forms of Talk (1981) Presentation of the Self in Everyday life (1956), Dramaturgy - with human social behaviour seen as more or less well scripted and with humans as role-taking actors. Role-taking is a key mechanism of interaction > reflexive awareness of self and others Role-making a key mechanism of interaction in unaccustomed situations improvisational quality of roles, with human social behaviour seen as poorly scripted and with humans as role-making improvisers.

13 SI defines ‘society’ Reflexive selves – social roles – meaning (triangular relationship). Society is the sum of human relations and consciousness rather than objective institutions There is no objective structure outside of individual experience/perception Social life is constructed by individuals in interaction with others The self is social because we are born into existing society BUT the self is bound by language (shared symbolic meanings ) and interaction. Thus, the mind and self are socialised. (SI does have a theory of ‘structure’). THUS the self can adopt various social roles – significant and generalised others

14 Symbolic Interactionism as action theory - Herbert Blumer
Mead’s student at U. Chicago. responsible for coining the term, "symbolic interactionism" Symbolic Interactionism, a study of human group life and conduct which holds the centrality of the production of meaning as central to human behaviour. concerned with observing social behaviour in relation to what he called the 'root images' of social interaction. The Dilemma of Qualitative Method: Herbert Blumer and the Chicago Tradition (1989)Martyn Hammersley (ed). Three core principles to his theory. They are meaning, language, and thought

15 Blumer (2) ‘meaning’ meaning states that humans act toward people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people or things. Language gives humans a means by which to negotiate meaning through symbols. Thought, based on language, is a mental conversation or dialogue that requires role taking, or imagining different points of view

16 Becker, Howard Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance(1969)
Studies of group values among ‘delinquents’ and emergence of shared codes, values contra ‘mainstream’ values People continuously shape and reshape social worlds by attaching meanings to objects in their environment Thus every human action bears potentially diverse symbolic meanings All people attach meanings to their behaviourm but such meanings are not always validated or accepted Becker argued, for example that (1) that the meaning of marijuana was not lodged in the drug itself, but in the user's experiences of the drug (2) meaning cemented social roles in the rituals of exchange and interaction with other user's . (3) the meaning value of the drug is also bound up future development of its value to the user (the cycle of meaning-making is ongoing).

17 Becker, deviance and labelling
Becker and labelling – ‘social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a qaulity, of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.

18 LEGACY OF SI A rejection of the dualisms that bedevilled sociological theory up to that point no objective structure outside of individual experience, emphasis - perhaps deterministically – on human agency in processes of social change social life is constructed by individuals in interaction with others Ethnomethodology participant observation Focuses on social structures as in construction – interested in how institutions are created and adapted by people Significantly draws attention to construction and reinforcement of dominant meanings (deviance and labelling) Emphasis on action at the micro-level and processes of social engagement and shifts in power (Foucault), amongst other ideas.

19 Critiques of SI Idealistic - tends to overlook the deep seated possibilities of conflict and resistance to the collective will overly impressionistic in their research methods and somewhat unsystematic in their theories. Inattention to the functions of institutions or structural forces and what structures we are trying to make sense of and adapt to.

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