Symbolic Interactionism Theory
Symbolic Interactionism helps us understand miscommunication.
People will react to something according to the meaning the thing has for them. We learn about meaning through interaction with others. As people come into contact with different experiences, they interpret what is being learned.
2. Because humans are active social beings who interact with others based on their meaning of a situation, they must have a sense of self.
A human infant is asocial. Once individuals develop a sense of self, this will provide motivations for future behavior.
3. The environment of an infant has symbols and values that were assigned at birth.
Individuals are influenced by society. People learn the rules and values of society through everyday interaction with that culture.
We divide our time among each of our roles based on the amount of salience that role has in our lives. A person has multiple identities. Identities are ordered in a salience hierarchy, defined as the likelihood that an identity will be involved in a variety of situations. Salience helps us link commitment and role choice.
Family secrets push people away, creating distance and disintegrating relationships
Secrets promote superficiality and prevent healing
Secrets hurt more than the immediate people involved
Why are secrets detrimental?
Will eventually blow up
Evolve through a process of interactive feedback and are generated through mutual experience.
Is a major foundation of relationships.
Shared beliefs help create, define, and maintain relational systems.
A wife is needing more attention from her husband. She decides to “triangle” God in and uses Him to prove a point: “Heavenly Father said that you are supposed to love me like Christ loves the Church! You should be planning a date night!
“I have been missing you lately and I need some adult conversation. Would you block off some time to spend together Friday night?”
Language – the nature of questions asked and the solutions proposed for problems. How the couple describes and interprets the “hand of God” in the mundane and extraordinary events of life. Religious couples depict God as united with the marriage in a “divine triangle”—the marriage is belonging to God. Language ratifies the belief that God is a member of the marital system.
Rituals – ceremonies that are rich in symbolic meaning that communicate God’s interest and involvement in the marriage. Highly routine sequence of family life that reinforces rituals and support the belief system. Prayers invoke God’s guidance in their day and provide accountability and gratitude at its close.
Histories – Stories become metaphors of the God-couple relationships and become symbolic in providing an enduring, stable, and resistant to contradictory information.
2. Guides the marital relationship as it sets a pattern for marital behavior
3. Characterizes God’s interest and intimate involvement in the marriage
1. maintaining a relationships with each person in the triangle by having ongoing regard and empathy with profound respect for the marital boundary
2. achieving emotional neutrality
3. disentangling from the conflict and promoting couple responsibility for its resolution
1. they displace God from a neutral position
2. They avoid sharing responsibility and focus on blame
God-couple triangles is when each spouse competes intensely for the allegiance of God, but neither is assured that they have it. They are attempting to shift the balance of power and focus on blame, guilt, and sin rather than working on change and growth.
1. use the authority they are speaking for God.
2. Rely on distortions of the bible
God couple Displacement creates a pseudoharmony -focusing on religion and God kept them from dealing directly with each other.
They project responsibility for marital problems onto God
Couple is drawn together through their union against “religion”.
In God-couples substitutive triangles, manage anxiety by distancing from their marital partner and striving for surrogate intimacy with God. Triangulation exists when the relationship with God is anesthetic enabling endurance. Detriangulation exists when the relationship with God empowers the person to work patiently toward resolution of problems in the marriage.
Coalition – Point out “From your perspective, it sounds like God is entirely on your side. Do you think that God has more understanding and empathy for your wife’s position than you think?”
Displacement – “Are you really angry at God or angry at yourselves for your marital distress?
Substitutive – Encourage them to reconsider God’s goals for the marriage, and invite them to consider whether, in the process of building God’s Kingdom, God is willing for them to forfeit their marital satisfaction.
• argued that social structure is constantly changing and developing
• suggested that meaning comes not from objects themselves, but from our interactions with objects
• showed an ideological commitment to progress and to democratic values
Mead was heavily influenced by the pragmatists and behaviorists
• Reality doesn’t exist “out there” it is actively created as we act in and toward the world.
• How we perceive our environment, will determine how we act on it
• People remember and base their knowledge of the world on what has proven useful to them
• Game stage (much more complex)—involves taking many roles at the same time
I being your automatic reaction to things and Me being the part of yourself that understands society’s rules and how you should react in a situation.
1. “I” = the impulsive, spontaneous, unpredictable part of the self (the spontaneous self)—immediate reactions to situations. Acting without thinking/usually preceded by emotions
2. “Me” = the thinking part of self (the social self – generalized other)—learned roles determined by interactions with others. Actions preceded by thought. Based on our goals, competencies, expectations of others in the environment (combined expectations of others is referred to as the “generalized other”)
2. Concepts and ideas have not been combined into one central theory.
3. Does not give enough attention to emotions or the unconscious.
4. Places to much emphasis on the ability of individuals to create their own realities. There is not enough attention on the fact that we live in a world that we do not create ourselves.
5. The role of power is neglected.
6. Lack of attention to the role of biology.
7. It has the capability to grow and change with the times. It has the capability to focus on family interactions and the roles that individuals play in those social acts.
– Premise of “definition of the situation”
– Stresses the importance of perceptions
– According to the pragmatists
1. Reality doesn’t exist “out there” it is actively created as we act in and toward the world.
– How we perceive or define our situation influences how we act or react to it.
– wrote a book with Florian Znaniecki that was the first to state that the family has a role in the socialization process and that families construct their own realities.
– coined the phrase definition of situation, which means you cannot understand human behavior without also understanding the subjective perspectives of the people involved in the interaction.
Horton Cooley developed the “The Looking Glass Self”. The assessment of how others evaluate us, and the gestures they use toward us help us make a self-evaluation.
1. Individuals think about how they appear to others.
2. Individuals make a judgment about what the other person thinks about them.
3. Individuals incorporate those ideas into their own concept of self.
– Refined James’ idea of the self and self coming out of interaction with others.
– Gestures give impressions of how we appear to others
– Assessment of how others are evaluating us.
– Self- evaluation – pride or mortification based on other’s perceived assessments.
Note: The notion that the self is capable of reflecting on its own behavior was incorporated in Mead’s Mind Self and Society
– The first person to use the term symbolic interactionism
– A symbol is anything capable of having multiple meanings
– Symbolic interaction notes the process of interpersonal interaction which requires the sharing of symbolic meaning.
– credited with developing the three primary premises of symbol interactionism
The notion that the self is capable of reflecting on its own behavior was incorporated in Mead’s Mind Self and Society
– Two basic concepts underlying SI: “self” and “mind”
– Self: the ability to step outside yourself and treat yourself as an object in the environment.
– Describe the self (personal traits)
– Act toward yourself
Mind: Reflective thinking, making indications to self
• Defining the situation
• Giving meaning to objects and people within the situation
• Assessing alternative courses of action
• Anticipating consequences alternatives
• Symbols of “discipline”?
• “Looking glass self” – 3 elements
• Definition of the situation – assessment of the situation
• Expectations for behavior of persons in a position
• Behavior of people in statuses or positions
– Assessment of how others are evaluating us.
– Self- evaluation – pride or mortification based on other’s perceived assessments.
– Indications of self prior to action.
– Should I do this or should I do that?
– Kronks mission
The decision on how to act is based upon:
– The “definition of the situation”
– Alternative lines of possible action
– The probable consequences
– How do consequences fit into one’s system of values and goals
Everyone has their own interpretation of situations and events based upon their own personal socialization.
Example: while her time with me was what she considered important I didn’t consider it on the same level that she did.
• Human act toward things based on the meanings the things have for them.
• Meaning arises out of social interaction between self and others.
• Meanings can be modified depending on an individual’s interpretation of the situation
• Patterns of action and interaction make up groups and societies.
• Improvise, explore, and judge appropriate of others rather than upon a set of previously learned scripts, or set of expectations
• Spontaneity in social roles
• Circular patterns exists: individual enacts behavior, others tend to expect individual to act that way, individual gives into pressures
• (example: child shoplifts, we label shoplifter – a deviant, not to be trusted, act toward child based on suspicion, child feels pressure to conform, sometimes unconsciously to these expectations)
– Intersubjective meanings – the meaning we give to everyday life come from the same frame of reference. (generate their own private understandings)
– Families explain things the same way
– Families don’t have to explain things to each other
– Family members create a “sense that they share a common view” this keeps them in relationships with one another.
• Working with families – do they have this sense of a shared experience, may express that something is missing, but can’t be put into words
– Implications for the intervention: Personal Reflections Program
– Remarriage issues: two families coming together with different intersubjective meanings to everyday life.
• Self as agent – too focused on the individual, ignoring social institutions
– Overestimates the power of individuals to create their own realities, ignoring the extent to which humans inhabit a world not of their own making
• Symbolic interactionism has neglected the emotional dimension of human conduct
– Discuss feelings in the general sense as part of the “definition of the situation” but they quit at that point. Failing to identify the type of feeling or the degree of the emotional experiences
• Question of cross culturally relevance
– Can general laws be generated if symbols have different meaning cross culturally?
McDonalds represents to one person as a symbol of greasy, fattening food. To another it is a place of comfort, happiness, and a place to go to relax while children play.
2. The meanings arise from the interaction process. They arrant fixed but are negotiable and changeable. People must also “take the attitude of the other” to be able to anticipate what the other persons will do and decide how they should respond. Once individuals develop a sense of self, this provides motivation for future behavior.
Humans are reflexive – we reflect on what we’ve experienced and use this as a guide for future behavior.
3. The meanings we give to situations are the result of the interpretive procedures we use. People are able to interact effectively only if they can communicate using a common language (shared symbols). Individuals are influenced by society. People learn the rules and values of society through everyday interactions within their culture.
Doesn’t give enough attention to either the importance of emotions or the role of the unconscious.
Has too much emphasis on people’s abilities to create their own realities and not enough attention to the fact that we live in a world we didn’t create ourselves.
The role of power is neglected.
Lack of attention to the role of biology.
Has the capacity to grow and change with the times (applicable across time).
Focuses on family interactions and the roles that individuals play in those social acts.
Social interactionism reminds us that we are all social beings, playing role and learning from one another.
B) Its terms are used to define one another (tautology)
C) Humans don’t always act rationally
D) All of the above
E) None of the above
The definition of the situation is again how individual people interpret a situation, that people will define that situation differently. That reality depends on how each person defines that situation.
Cooley: developed the “The Looking Glass Self”. The assessment of how others evaluate us, and the gestures they use toward us help us make a self-evaluation.
Blumer: coined the term “Symbolic Interactionism”. A symbol is anything capable of having multiple meanings. A symbolic interaction notes the process of interpersonal interaction which requires the sharing of symbolic meaning.
Mead: was interested in how individuals construct meaningful behavior. Self is constant movement between I and me. “I” (the spontaneous self)—immediate reactions to situations. The Me is the thinking part of ourselves. That’s the part when you think about, “should I do this?” What would other people think?
A) Pay attention to how individuals interpret events
B) Consider how cultural meanings affects social behavior
C) Look for commonly shared signs and symbols
D) a and b
E) All of the above
A) play stage
B) game stage
A) It’s not really a completely integrated theory
B) Does not propose how families can improve
C) It doesn’t focus enough on the hard facts that we live in a world that we do not create.
D) People find the concepts confusing
E) Doesn’t give enough attention to emotions