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Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionism is a theory that focuses on how individuals interact. It argues that people's actions are based on the meanings they assign to things, which can differ depending on the person and can change over time. Critics say the theory is too narrow, but proponents claim it can help explain social change and society as a whole. Created by Sydney Brown.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Jason Thompson
    can you explain why people might do or have A different opinion of (something/one) because someone they know had that opinion when not knowing any thing about it
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user NotMyRealUsername
      People have different opinions because:

      1) They have different minds. They don't think like you-they aren't a clone of you.


      2)They do not like you and argue with you every time.


      3)Not everyone thinks alike.


      4)There might be proof that a certain opinion is false but you still believe it. EX. You think the sky is blue but there is proof it's blue because of the water's reflection.


      5)We as humans have wandering minds that roam around until they find a solution, which will cause them to change their belief.


      6)Some people were/are forced to believe a certain way that they don't know any better than to believe it.
      (10 votes)
  • male robot johnny style avatar for user Dododeda
    Why doesn't she mention the use of symbols for this theory? Symbolic interactionism is viewing society as composed of symbols that people use to establish meaning, develop views about the world, and communicate with one another. We are thinking beings who act according to how we interpret situations.
    What she appears to be describing in the video's example is social constructionism (social construction of reality), where through our interaction with others, we construct reality of the situation. In social constructionism, our behavior depends on how we define reality. Isn't that the same as "action depends on meaning", which is what the video is saying?
    Very confusing.
    (4 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Danielle N
      From Wiki...

      "Herbert Blumer, a student and interpreter of Mead, coined the term "symbolic interactionism" and put forward an influential summary of the perspective: people act toward things based on the meaning those things have for them; and these meanings are derived from social interaction and modified through interpretation"
      (8 votes)
  • male robot johnny style avatar for user farhy173
    At , she states that symbolic interactionism which focuses on the individual can also explain "social order and change" but the rest of the video deals with the theory in relation to individuals and not society as a whole. How can symbolic interactionism be applied to society as well?
    (1 vote)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Anna
      Let me give you an example.

      In a civilization Person A finds the lake nearby to be very nice during the hot summers. Person B who is a friend of Person B agrees and tells his opinion about the lake to all his friends and then those friends spread the information on to their friends and so on and so forth. Soon everybody agrees that the lake is nice during the summer. The oldest person in the civilization with the most knowledge declares a holiday where everybody goes to the lake and all bodies of water going to and from it including other lakes on the first hot day of the year to cool off.

      Now in this example the holiday wasn't there when Person A went to the lake or when Person B went to the lake. In fact it wasn't there until everybody went to the lake. This is an example of Social change because holidays(at least some) are formed by spreading information about some tradition a person's family had until everybody in a certain area abides by the tradition and are also often times when people are more social.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jola Coolie
    What about the influence of large scale symbolic interactions like academia or the media or the entertainment industry? These things play an increasingly massive role in influencing how we understand things, ie, the significance or meaning we give things, and they certainly don't occur on a one-to-one level... How does that fit with this theory? Does it allow us to extrapolate it to a large scale?
    PS. I'm a newb to such philosophical theory
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Sum Wun
    where can I find 'agency' information?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user d.mcat
    So George Mead created the Mead theory of the spontaneous I and me AND symbolic interaction??
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Albert Dixon
    Provide a real life example for symbols
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Justin
    This sounds an awful lot like social psychology. Is the major distinction between the two that the emphasis of symbolic interactionism is to better understand society while social psychology seeks to understand the individual? If that is the case what would the example with the tree tell us about society?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Laura Catherine Phillippe
    How does the Symbolic-Interaction Approach relate to electronics ( television, cell phones, iPads, etc.) within the family and social interaction?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user aprilllavor
    What is Cultural Materialism of Marvin Harris?
    (1 vote)
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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.