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Video transcript

Symbolic interactionism takes a small scale view of society. It focuses on a small scale perspective of the interactions between individuals, like when you hang out with a friend, instead of looking at large scale structures, like education or law. By looking at the small scale, symbolic interactionism explains the individual in a society and their interactions with others. And through that, it can explain social order and change. The theory was compiled from the teachings of George Herbert Mead in the early 20th century. He believed that the development of the individual was a social process, as were the meanings individuals assigned to things. People change based on their interactions with objects, events, ideas, other people. And they assign meaning to things in order to decide how to act. For example, if I had sat under the shade of trees all my life, and I was on a long walk today and spotted a big tree, I might want to sit under it. The tree means shade on a hot day to me. Herbert Bloomer continued Mead's work and actually coined the term symbolic interactionism to describe this theory of society. He proposed three tenets to explain symbolic interactionism. Let's say I do decide to sit under that tree on my long walk today. I step off the path and sit down and lean back against the trunk. Bloomer's first tenet was that we act based on the meaning we have given something. I consider the tree as a place to rest, so I'll go lean against it. As I'm sitting there, another person stops to warn me that all trees are infested with ants. Bloomer's second tenet was that we give meaning to things based on our social interactions. The same thing can have a different meaning for different people. For the person talking to me, the tree is a breeding ground for creepy crawlies, and they are going to avoid it. But I'm quite happy with my seat in the shade, and I haven't been bothered by any ants. So I'm content just to sit. We have different views of the tree, and so we act differently. As I'm sitting there talking to this lovely person, I feel something tickle my shoulder. And suddenly I jump up as something bites my back. Turns out the tree was infested with ants. Now that I've been bitten under a tree, I might not sit under the next one I find because it might also be infested with ants. Bloomer's third tenet was that the meaning we give something is not permanent. It can change due to everyday life. The meaning I give to trees has changed after my interaction with the infested tree. A big tree now means shade on a hot day with a potential for getting bit. So let's sum up the three central ideas of symbolic interactionism. They are that action depends on meaning, that different people assign different meanings of things, and that the meaning of something can change. But there are some criticisms to symbolic interactionism as a theory because it doesn't ask the same questions as the large scale sociology theories do. It is sometimes considered as supplemental, rather than a full theory, because it is restricted to studying small interactions between individuals. While this is true, symbolic interactionism gives a different perspective to sociology that is necessary for fully understanding a society. It is capable of explaining how aspects of society can change as they are created and re-created by social interactions. It examines society on a small scale and gives the individual the same importance as the society as a whole and is a necessary view when studying a society.