Symbolic Interaction and Herbert Blumers Contribution Essay

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“ The kernel of society prevarications in an on-going procedure of action- non in a posited construction of dealingss ” -Blumer, 1969, ( p.71 )

Although symbolic interaction theory is frequently applied chiefly to the micro degree, the structuring of mutualist lines of behaviour at the meso and macro degrees besides involves shared definitions developed through interaction. The overall civilization of a society is the nonsubjective result of these shared societal definitions whereby subjective significances are created, frequently expressed in stuff artefacts of assorted types, and either sustained or transformed through interaction.

Symbolic Interaction-Process Versus Structure

Many of the nucleus thoughts of symbolic interaction theory are grounded in the pioneering work of George Herbert Mead, peculiarly his position sing the stopping point relationship between the mental processes whereby people make sense of their environment and their interaction with one another. This relationship is manifested in the forms of coaction among people as they seek to develop shared readings of the state of affairss they face. It is besides reflected in how one ‘s self-concept develops through consciousness of the positions of others. In add-on, modern-day symbolic interaction theory draws on Charles Horton Cooley ‘s analysis of how one ‘s feelings about oneself ( pride or shame, for illustration ) reflect one ‘s sensitiveness to the positive or negative reactions of others, particularly in primary group scenes. This is consistent with his often-cited construct of the “ looking-glass ego. ”

Symbolic interaction theory is comparable in some ways to Georg Simmel ‘s focal point on the signifiers of interaction, but symbolic interaction theory goes deeper than Simmel ‘s position in stressing the symbolic medium through which interaction takes topographic point plus the subjective mental processes that accompany it. This focal point on the subjective degree may be compared to Weber ‘s accent on understanding the subjective significances of persons ‘ actions. But while Weber moved good beyond the degree of single actions and subjective significances to cover with wide forms of institutional and cultural alteration, many symbolic interactionists resemble Simmel in their strong micro-level focal point.

Human existences relate to one another and to their environment in footings of interdependent functions they create and sustain. At the centre of this procedure are the self-concepts or individualities of the persons involved as they interact and adjust to one another in face-to-face brushs. Human existences are therefore transformed into pupils and instructors, friends and lovers, hubbies and married womans, squad participants and college alumnuss, clients and gross revenues people, famous persons and perverts, soldiers and societal workers, attorneies and constabularies officers, members and foreigners, and so on. Social definitions are important even for specifying the significance and societal relevancy of human existences ‘ biological features, such as sex, age, and weight, for illustration. The socially contrived character of large-scale institutional constructions may non be every bit obvious as in little group relationships or kids ‘s micro-level drama universes, but macro flat societal establishments are besides socially constructed through widely shared subjective definitions that are developed and sustained through interaction. This implies that when subjective definitions and readings undergo widespread alteration, institutional transmutation may happen, which so changes the context of subsequent interactions at the micro degree. The divisions between micro, meso, and macro degrees of analysis are non stiff differentiations. From R assorted micro-level societal circles, webs of societal dealingss extend outward, therefore supplying an gap to meso and macro degrees of the societal universe.

The heritage one portion as members of society besides includes digesting cultural merchandises and artefacts that have been constructed or reproduced by infinite other people far beyond the scope of one ‘s ain limited societal circles or personal cognition. Language evidently transcends personal micro-level societal scenes, even though linguistic communication is really reproduced on a regular basis in the context of face-to-face interaction every bit good as in mass media communicating. Even one ‘s version to the nonsubjective physical world of the natural universe ( like the nutrient one chow ) is mediated through the symbols used to specify and construe it. All symbolic interactionists emphasize the micro-level linkages between the subjective consciousnesses, interpersonal interaction, and individuality formation, every bit good as the symbolic and socially constructed nature of the larger societal universe.

Symbolic interaction theory today differs from the open uping “ societal behaviourism ” emphasized by Mead in the early portion of the 20th century.

Blumer ‘s Theorey:

Symbolic interaction theory, under the influence of Herbert Blumer, was in big portion a critical reaction to macro flat types of analysis, peculiarly as reflected in functional theory, and the strong accent on the impression that people ‘s behaviour is mostly determined by societal constructions. For symbolic interaction theoreticians, the strong accent on culturally scripted norms and institutionalised functions was misplaced. This focal point seemed to go forth small room for persons to do picks or to improvize as they interpret and adjust to the specific state of affairss they face. For symbolic interactionists societal constructions do non be as an nonsubjective world that is independent of the actions of its human participants. Alternatively, all facets of the societal universe are negotiated, constructed, and reproduced or sometimes transformed through on-going procedures of interaction and subjective reading whereby people reciprocally shape one another ‘s perceptual experiences, definitions, and responses to their environment. Within this general model, several different countries of accent can be identified within symbolic interaction theory. Symbolic interactionist position serves as a general model for function theory, mention group theory, analyses of societal perceptual experience and individual perceptual experience, self theory, and dramaturgic theory.

Of the assorted versions of symbolic interactionism, Herbert Blumer ‘s ( 1962 ) position expressed the strongest incredulity sing macro-level theories such as functionalism. As he put it:

By and big, of class, sociologists do non analyze human society in footings of its moving units, alternatively, they are disposed to see human society in footings of construction or organisation and to handle societal action as an look of such construction or organisation. Therefore, trust is placed on such structural classs as societal system, civilization, norms, values, societal stratification, position place, societal functions and institutional organisation.

( Blumer, pp.188-189 in Rose, ed. 1962 )

Blumer coined the term symbolic interaction and promoted Mead ‘s strong accent on the interconnected procedures of common role-taking, interaction, and subjective reading that occur as people adjust their actions to one another in covering with the peculiar state of affairss they face. This accent on the demand for people to improvize their responses to their environment and to one another seems to understate the wonts and memories that persons bring to state of affairss that they encounter over and over. It besides seems to force the cultural and institutional “ model ” that might act upon their readings into the background. Even though societal organisation, civilization, functions, and other structural characteristics of the societal universe may non find people ‘s behaviour in a strong sense, such characteristics may however be taken into consideration, particularly in familiar state of affairss. When people repeatedly face similar types of state of affairss, they may use ready-made responses with merely a minimum sum of dialogue or contemplation. This does non intend that societal organisation determines people ‘s behaviour as an external force. It does propose, nevertheless, that forms of interaction and reading are non ever every bit fluid as Blumer seems to propose.

Peoples do so sometimes face fresh state of affairss that are unstructured and equivocal and so will necessitate to do a witting attempt to do sense of them as they explore with one another how to get by. In other state of affairss, they may each hold their ain typical thoughts on how to react and so will necessitate to negociate their differences. But in many everyday state of affairss they already portion an inexplicit apprehension of its salient characteristics and cognize how to react. This means that really small dialogue is required if any. Regardless of these fluctuations, forms of societal organisation, including written regulations and established authorization or power constructions, are ne’er automatically self-enforcing. Alternatively, these “ structural ” factors become relevant merely to the extent that people remember them and make up one’s mind how to use them. Sometimes there may be treatment and argument sing whether or how an established regulation or usage should use. If there are big differences in power and authorization, the dialogue really may be rather minimum, as those with comparatively less power recognize the futility of seeking to acquire those with greater power to see things their manner.

By forcing societal organisation, civilization, and similar constructs that transcend peculiar state of affairss into the background, and by stressing the fluid and undetermined nature of the immediate societal universe, Blumer ‘s attack makes it hard to set up rules of societal behaviour that apply across different state of affairss or to travel from the micro to the macro degree. However, other symbolic interaction theoreticians give more accent to stable structural classs than Blumer did. These structural influences do non find behaviour from the outside, as external or nonsubjective forces, nevertheless ; alternatively, they are encoded in persons ‘ subjective consciousness and shared memories and outlooks. Although they may be interpreted to use in alone ways in different state of affairss, they are however reflected in participants ‘ sensitivities sing how to react to the specific state of affairss they face.

The contrast between Blumer ‘s position of the fluid and undetermined nature of the societal universe versus a more structural version of symbolic interaction theory can be illustrated through the procedure whereby persons ‘ self-concepts are developed, maintained, and changed. The relation between persons ‘ self-concepts or individualities, their societal functions, and the reactions of others can be traced back to the pioneering work of Mead and Cooley. Contemporary symbolic interactionist theory offers several different schemes for researching how persons ‘ self-concepts or individualities are expressed through the different functions they perform. The undermentioned subdivision will cover in more item with the relation between people ‘s function public presentations and their individualities.

Blumer ‘s image of the fluid and negotiated character of the societal universe implies that individualities and societal functions are non fixed but alternatively are mostly improvised in each brush as persons seek to aline their ain self-concepts and purposes with the outlooks of others. In contrast to Blumer, a more structural version of symbolic interaction theory puts greater accent on the standardised and everyday outlooks and behaviours of assorted functions. With this alternate focal point societal life is viewed as holding a higher degree of predictability than implied in Blumer ‘s position, particularly in everyday state of affairss. Although behaviour is non determined by societal functions, with no room for single fluctuations, this structural version is closer to the conventional signifiers of sociological analysis that Blumer criticized. While functions may non be scripted in item, there are definite guidelines and outlooks that people tend to follow. People ‘s self-concepts are multidimensional. They may reflect functions associated with assorted personal features every bit good as with the societal places they occupy. These functions include, for illustration, those associated with gender, age, household position, business, race or ethnicity, residential location, leisure clip chases, general life style penchants, and so on. Such functions are likely to be partly structured by general cultural outlooks every bit good as by specific outlooks that develop among people who interact on a regular footing. Even so, there is room for considerable improvisation in most instances as persons express their ain alone individualism and seek to fulfill their current demands and concerns.

There are three cardinal premises underlying a symbolic interactionist position ; and it is to Blumer ‘s great recognition that these premises receive accent in his work. All are in fact cardinal to Mead ‘s statements, even while none of them originates with Mead.

The first of these premises holds that an equal history of human behaviour must integrate the position of the histrion and can non rest wholly on the position of the perceiver entirely. The 2nd of these premises asserts the precedence of societal interaction and the derivative, emergent nature of both ego and societal organisation from that societal procedure. The 3rd argues that ego, or individuals ‘ automatic responses to themselves, serves to associate larger social procedures to the societal interactions of those individuals.

The first and last of these premises contain between them the justification for take a firm standing that socially formed significances that are facets of the subjective experience of individuals are non merely lawfully but are necessarily portion of perceivers ‘ histories of the societal behaviour of human existences.

Contrary to Blumer ‘s place would be the emergent character of societal life every bit good as disregarding the world in experience of the dialectical relationship of what Mead called the “ I ” and the “ me. ” However, working from Blumer ‘s position on these affairs does non necessitate that one must withdraw to phenomenologies of single heads, or waive efforts to develop theoretical accounts of societal life that have some general pertinence.

If one accepts interaction as the beginning and substance of society, i.e. , accepting the foundational character of the societal procedure, it will certainly be the credence of Blumer ‘s accent on the emergent character of ego and societal organisation. This credence in bend implies the acknowledgment of some grade of indefiniteness in efforts to anticipate what will be from what is at any given minute of that societal procedure. Further, such indefiniteness is principled and non simply a acknowledgment of the rawness or insufficiency of present cognition.

The cardinal function of ego in interceding the relationship of societal procedure and societal behaviour, one of the basic premises of symbolic interactionist thought whose accent in Blumer ‘s work demand to be emphasized.

Without raising a construct such as ego, efforts to come to clasps with obvious variableness of individuals ‘ behaviour in the face of evident stability of circumstance-biological, ecological, cultural, or social-are likely to laminitis likewise in a complementary manner the construct of ego licenses covering with that variableness in specifically societal footings.

Meta-theoretical Concepts of Blumer:

The metatheoretical thoughts proclaim the impossibleness of general, prognostic sociological theory as a effect of the centrality of significances and definitions in the production of human behaviour. For Blumer, all societal life is actively constructed by participants in the really procedure of interaction itself because this “ micro-constructivist ” procedure is taken to be descriptive of societal life in general, it is besides taken to be descriptive of the significances and the readings using those significances assumed to be critical for each “ following measure ” in the procedures of interaction. Meanings in that sense are genuinely emergents, capable to literally uninterrupted reformulation on a moment-to-moment footing. If significances are so cardinal, and if significances are constructed in and peculiar to the experience of single histrions, emergent from their on-going experience, it follows for Blumer that the generalization required of the predictive, theoretical constructs in footings of which theoretical statements are couched can non be. Preexistent constructs can non fit the emergent readings of histrions building their lines of societal interaction. Given all of this, Blumer concludes, sociology can anticipate to be able to develop after-the-fact apprehensions of behaviours that have occurred, but can non expect the development of general explanatory sociological theory in a prognostic sense.

Methodological effects of Blumer:

His metatheoretical statement has methodological effects. For one thing, it implies the futility of a research endeavor that is initiated by a priori theory, or that anticipates behavioural results via hypotheses arrived at deductively from such theory. For another, it suggests that research methods that fail to concentrate straight upon histrions ‘ readings by puting up anterior procedural or substantial restraints on how issues are formulated or are attacked-experimentation and study research methods are instances in point-necessarily deficiency va1idity and the capacity to bring forth meaningful informations. And for yet another, it underwrites the disapprobation of the application of mathematical or statistical uses of informations in attempts to pull from those informations their sociological deductions, on the evidences that numerical informations are needfully bereft of the significances that define the indispensable character of sociological phenomena. Therefore along with denying the possibility of explanatory sociological theory, Blumer badly restricts the legitimate scope of investigatory ( informations assemblage ) techniques every bit good as analytic methods.Apparently, in his ain head merely participatory observation meets his stenosiss but even that method would non last a thorough logical analysis of its tantrum to Blumer ‘s methodological statements. ‘

It is of import to observe that Blumer ‘s thoughts which are cardinal to specifying symbolic interactionism do non needfully take to the metatheoretical and methodological terminals at which he himself arrives. Actors ‘ positions, the definitions of state of affairss they call into drama that are critical to the class and the content of interaction, are non unconstrained. Both the significances those are possible to raise in the class of specifying state of affairss, every bit good as the peculiar significances from the scope of possible significances that are likely to be invoked, are non random events. They are, on the contrary, capable to the restraints of extant societal and cultural systems. Further, there is some sensible stableness over clip to the significances attached to societal objects. For practical intents these do non alter randomly or from minute to minute in a manner that signifies great alteration in behavioural results. If there were no such stableness, if significances did non in general entail comparative stability from minute to minute, from twenty-four hours to twenty-four hours, even from twelvemonth to twelvemonth, there is no manner that societal life could hold the predictability that enables people to populate their lives as they do.

The fact that significances can alter radically and sharply does non reason that in general they do alter radically and sharply. This implies that one can so explicate general statements or theoretical propositions that go beyond the phenomenologies of individual persons, statements or propositions that are non capable to a priori rejection, whatever their destiny may be at the custodies of empirical grounds. To acknowledge that societal life is constructed via definitional or interpretative procedures and that there are few bounds on what buildings are possible does non necessitate one to recant moderately strong anticipations, or to expect that anticipations, when based on solid theoretical evidences, will miss credibleness or cogency. Neither does it rid of the acknowledgment that the societal procedure sometimes, possibly even often, crystallizes and stabilizes in a mode that permits the theoretical acknowledgment of “ egos ” and “ societal constructions ” that they themselves operate to restrain and restrict the possibilities for outgrowth in societal life, that operate to transform possibilities into chances.

Substantial thoughts in Blumer:

In substantial footings, it is Blumer ‘s intervention or deficiency thereof of societal organisation and societal construction are both incidental and extremely debatable. For Blumer, “ society consists of the aggregates of lines of single action, the suiting together of these lines. Individual action is a affair of individuals steering their ain action by construing the significance of things for that prospective action ; group action is a affair of alining single action through a procedure of role-taking, i.e. , seeking out the significance of others ‘ Acts of the Apostless by determining what they are making or mean to make ( Blumer 1969, p. 8 ) .

Social organisation and societal constructions enter action merely by determining state of affairss and supplying the symbols used in construing state of affairss, “ merely as they enter into the procedure of reading and definition out of which joint actions are formed ” ; and, in any event, they are less of import in modern society than in stabilised, settled societies exactly because in the former there are fewer state of affairss naming for antecedently regularized and standardized actions.


There evidently exist a figure of really different senses of what symbolic interaction is substantively and what it implies methodologically. The job is non that these different senses exist ; the job instead lies in the unreal and unneeded resistances among them created by the polemics that have historically characterized the literature of symbolic interactionism-the polemics of societal motions and embattled minorities, the polemics that define orthodoxies and unorthodoxies in seeking to enroll disciples to the streamer being waved by the pure. The fact of multiplicity of alternate point of views in itself is healthy: self-denial, pick, freedom and assorted other good things spring from options symbolically represented in human experience. But multiplicity of positions can be unhealthy if there is no communicating across differences, if either structural or cognitive barriers prevent the options from in fact come ining the experience of individuals, for so each individual becomes the captive of his or her preferable -perspective. ” One is so used by positions instead than utilizing them and the positions themselves are likely to ossify, to go undisputed Truths and non potentially fallible thoughts subject to logical and empirical scrutiny and reformulation.

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