40th Anniversary of Studies in Symbolic Interaction

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Symbolic Interactionist Perspective on Gender and Sexuality

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In most cases, they make use of their values in choosing what to study; however, they seek to be objective in how they conduct the research.

Symbolic interactionism

Therefore, the symbolic-interaction approach is a micro-level orientation focusing on human interaction in specific situations. There are five central ideas to symbolic interactionism according to Joel M. To Blumer's conceptual perspective, he put them in three core principles: that people act toward things, including each other, on the basis of the meanings they have for them; that these meanings are derived through social interaction with others; and that these meanings are managed and transformed through an interpretive process that people use to make sense of and handle the objects that constitute their social worlds.

Keeping Blumer's earlier work in mind David A.

Snow , professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine , suggests four broader and even more basic orienting principles: human agency, interactive determination, symbolization, and emergence. Snow uses these four principles as the thematic bases for identifying and discussing contributions to the study of social movements.

Human agency emphasizes the active, willful, goal-seeking character of human actors. The emphasis on agency focuses attention on those actions, events, and moments in social life in which agentic action is especially palpable. Interactive determination specifies that understanding of focal objects of analysis, whether they are self-concepts, identities, roles, practices, or even social movements. Basically this means, neither individual, society, self, or others exist only in relation to each other and therefore can be fully understood only in terms of their interaction.

Symbolization highlights the processes through which events and conditions, artifacts, people, and other environmental features that take on particular meanings, becoming nearly only objects of orientation. Human behavior is partly contingent on what the object of orientation symbolizes or means.

Emergence focuses on attention on the processual and non-habituated side of social life, focusing not only on organization and texture of social life, but also associated meaning and feelings. The principal of emergence tells us not only to possibility of new forms of social life and system meaning but also to transformations in existing forms of social organization. New media is a term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound.

Studies encompassed discursive communities ; [16] [17] identity ; [18] [19] community as social reality; [20] networking; [21] the public sphere ; [22] ease and anonymity in interactions. It has been demonstrated that people's ideas about community are formed, in part, through interactions both in online forums and face-to-face.

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Studies in Symbolic Interaction : Norman K. Denzin :

As a result, people act in their communities according to the meanings they derive about their environment, whether online or offline, from those interactions. This perspective reveals that online communication may very well take on different meanings for different people depending on information, circumstance, relationships, power, and other systems that make up communities of practice. People enact community the way it is conceived and the meaning of community evolves as they come up with new ways to utilize it. Given this reality, scholars are continually challenged to research and understand how online communities are comprised, how they function, and how they are connected to offline social life.

Laura Robinson discusses how symbolic interaction theory explains the way individuals create a sense of self through their interactions with others. However, she believes advances in technology have changed this. The article investigates the manner in which individuals form their online identity. She uses symbolic interaction theory to examine the formation of the cyber "I" and a digital "generalized other". In the article, Robinson suggests individuals form new identities on the internet.

She argues these cyber identities are not necessarily the way the individual would be perceived offline. Symbolic interactionists are often criticized for being overly impressionistic in their research methods and somewhat unsystematic in their theories. It is argued that the theory is not one theory, but rather, the framework for many different theories.


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Additionally, some theorists have a problem with symbolic interaction theory due to its lack of testability. These objections, combined with the fairly narrow focus of interactionist research on small-group interactions and other social psychological issues, have relegated the interactionist camp to a minority position among sociologists albeit a fairly substantial minority.

Much of this criticism arose during the s in the U. Perhaps the best known of these is by Alvin Gouldner. Some critiques of symbolic interactionism are based on the assumption that it is a theory , and the critiques apply the criteria for a "good" theory to something that does not claim to be a theory. Some critics find the symbolic interactionist framework too broad and general when they are seeking specific theories. Symbolic interactionism is a theoretical framework rather than a theory [27] [28] and can be assessed on the basis of effective conceptualizations.

The theoretical framework, as with any theoretical framework, is vague when it comes to analyzing empirical data or predicting outcomes in social life. As a framework rather than a theory, many scholars find it difficult to use. Interactionism being a framework rather than a theory makes it impossible to test interactionism in the manner that a specific theoretical claim about the relationship between specific variables in a given context allows. Unlike the symbolic interactionist framework, the many theories derived from symbolic interactionism, such as role theory and the versions of identity theory developed by Sheldon Stryker , [29] [30] and Peter Burke and colleagues, [31] [32] clearly define concepts and the relationships between them in a given context, thus allowing for the opportunity to develop and test hypotheses.

Further, especially among Blumerian processual interactionists, a great number of very useful conceptualizations have been developed and applied in a very wide range of social contexts, types of populations, types of behaviors, and cultures and subcultures. Symbolic interactionism is often related and connected with social structure. This concept suggests that symbolic interactionism is a construction of people's social reality.


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  4. When the reality of a situation is defined, the situation becomes a meaningful reality. This includes methodological criticisms, and critical sociological issues. A number of symbolic interactionists have addressed these topics, the best known being Stryker's structural symbolic interactionism [29] [33] and the formulations of interactionism heavily influenced by this approach sometimes referred to as the "Indiana School" of symbolic interactionism , including the works of key scholars in sociology and psychology using different methods and theories applying a structural version of interactionism that are represented in a collection edited by Burke et al.

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    Kuhn's formulation which is often referred to in sociological literature as the "Iowa School". Language is viewed as the source of all meaning. Most people interpret things based on assignment and purpose. The interaction occurs once the meaning of something has become identified.

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    This concept of meaning is what starts to construct the framework of social reality. By aligning social reality, Blumer suggests that language is the meaning of interaction.


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    6. Communication, especially in the form of symbolic interactionism is connected with language. Language initiates all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal. Blumer defines this source of meaning as a connection that arises out of the social interaction that people have with each other. According to social theorist Patricia Burbank, the concepts of synergistic and diverging properties are what shape the viewpoints of humans as social beings.

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