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Abstract

Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theoretical perspective in sociology that addresses the manner in which individuals create and maintain society through face-to-face, repeated, meaningful interactions. This article provides an overview of three theoretical traditions in symbolic interactionism, focusing on the work of Herbert Blumer (the Chicago School), Manford Kuhn (the Iowa School), and Sheldon Stryker (the Indiana School). A brief summary of each figure’s general perspective on symbolic interactionism is provided, followed by a discussion of the research methodology that defines and distinguishes each. The article then reviews and assesses the empirical research that has emerged from these traditions over the past decades. It concludes with a discussion of future directions symbolic interactionists should attend to in continuing to develop the field.
Sociopedia.isa
© 2015 The Author(s)
© 2015 ISA (Editorial Arrangement of Sociopedia.isa)
Michael J Carter and Celene Fuller, 2015, ‘Symbolic interactionism’, Sociopedia.isa,
DOI: 10.1177/205684601561
1
Introduction
Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theoretical
framework and perspective in sociology that addresses
how society is created and maintained through repeat-
ed interactions among individuals. The perspective
emerged in the mid-twentieth century from a variety
of influences, including the Scottish Moralist and
American Pragmatist philosophers – its greatest influ-
ence being American philosopher George Herbert
Mead (1934) and his theories about the relationship
between self and society. The emergence of symbolic
interactionism was a response to the mainstream per-
spectives on society that dominated sociology at the
time (such as Talcott Parsons’s structural functional-
ism). These dominant, positivist approaches tended to
examine society from the ‘top down,’ focusing on the
impact of macro-level institutions and social struc-
tures and how they impose on and constrain individ-
uals. Departing from this tradition, symbolic
interactionism was developed to understand the oper-
ation of society from the ‘bottom up,’ shifting the
focus to micro-level processes that emerge during
face-to-face encounters in order to explain the opera-
tion of society. For symbolic interactionists, the pre-
vailing structuralist perspectives reified society as a
constraining entity that ultimately defines an individ-
ual. Symbolic interactionism moved away from such
perspectives that (perhaps) provided over-socialized
views of the individual to conceive the individual as
agentic, autonomous, and integral in creating their
social world.
Central to symbolic interactionist thought is the
idea that individuals use language and significant
symbols in their communication with others. Rather
than addressing how common social institutions
define and impact individuals, symbolic interaction-
ists shift their attention to the interpretation of sub-
jective viewpoints and how individuals make sense of
their world from their unique perspective. Symbolic
interactionists are often less concerned with objective
structure than with subjective meaning how repeat-
ed, meaningful interactions among individuals come
to define the makeup of ‘society.’ Summarized suc-
cinctly, the basic tenets of symbolic interactionism
state that: (1) individuals act based on the meanings
abstract Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theoretical perspective in sociology that addresses the
manner in which individuals create and maintain society through face-to-face, repeated, meaningful inter-
actions. This article provides an overview of three theoretical traditions in symbolic interactionism, focus-
ing on the work of Herbert Blumer (the Chicago School), Manford Kuhn (the Iowa School), and Sheldon
Stryker (the Indiana School). A brief summary of each figure’s general perspective on symbolic interac-
tionism is provided, followed by a discussion of the research methodology that defines and distinguishes
each. The article then reviews and assesses the empirical research that has emerged from these traditions
over the past decades. It concludes with a discussion of future directions symbolic interactionists should
attend to in continuing to develop the field.
keywords microsociology social psychology symbolic interactionism
Symbolic interactionism
Michael J Car ter and Celene Fuller California State University,
Northridge, USA
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
objects have for them; (2) interaction occurs within
a particular social and cultural context in which
physical and social objects (persons), as well as situa-
tions, must be defined or categorized based on indi-
vidual meanings; (3) meanings emerge from
interactions with other individuals and with society;
and (4) meanings are continuously created and recre-
ated through interpreting processes during interac-
tion with others (Blumer, 1969).
In this article we examine past and present theo-
ry and research in symbolic interactionism. We first
discuss three theoretical approaches within symbolic
interactionism that have defined the field. Next, we
review and assess the empirical research that has
emerged over the past decades to show how the per-
spective has evolved. Lastly, we discuss the future of
symbolic interactionism and identify key areas that
the next generation of scholars should attend to in
continuing to refine and develop symbolic interac-
tionism as a leading sociological perspective.
Overview of theoretical approaches
within symbolic interactionism
Theory and research in symbolic interactionism has
developed along three main areas of emphasis, fol-
lowing the work of Herbert Blumer (the Chicago
School), Manford Kuhn (the Iowa School), and
Sheldon Stryker (the Indiana School). Herbert
Blumer coined the term ‘symbolic interactionism
and was the first to formulate Mead’s ideas into a
cohesive theory with specific methodological impli-
cations for study. Kuhn and Stryker, while method-
ologically at odds with Blumer, share much of the
same theoretical orientation as him, following Mead.
Let us examine these theoretical approaches in more
detail to understand how they together make up our
contemporary understanding of interactionist
thought.
The Chicago School
The main variant of symbolic interactionism was
developed by Herbert Blumer (1969) at the
University of Chicago in the 1950s. Blumer brought
Mead’s philosophically-based social behaviorism to
sociology, even if some have seen his conception of
symbolic interactionism more resembling WI
Thomas’s (1931) notion of the ‘definition of the sit-
uation’ than what is purely found in the work of
Mead (Collins, 1994). Blumer laid the groundwork
for a new theoretical paradigm which in many ways
challenged sociology’s accepted forms of epistemolo-
gy and methodology. Blumer’s brand of symbolic
interactionism has been the most influential in soci-
ology; most interactionist scholarship is aligned to
some degree with his vision.
Blumer emphasized how the self emerges from an
interactive process of joint action (Denzin, 1992).
Blumer, like Mead, saw individuals as engaged in
‘mind action’: humans do not ponder on themselves
and their relationships to others sometimes – they
constantly are engaged in mindful action where they
manipulate symbols and negotiate the meaning of
situations (Mead, 1934). Echoing Mead, Blumer
believed that the study of human behavior must
begin with human association, a notion that was not
common in the viewpoint of early American sociol-
ogy, which treated the individual and society as dis-
crete entities (Meltzer and Petras, 1970).
Blumer’s symbolic interactionism centers on
processes actors use to constantly create and recreate
experiences from one interaction to the next. For
Blumer, symbolic interactionism was simply ‘the
peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it
takes place between human beings’ (Blumer, 1962:
179). In his view, social institutions exist only as
individuals interact; society is not a structure but
rather a continuing process where agency and inde-
terminateness of action is emphasized (Collins,
1994). Treating society as structured, patterned, or
stable is a reification because society, like individual
actors’ interactions and experiences with one anoth-
er, is constantly in flux. Following Mead, Blumer’s
symbolic interactionism conceives social institutions
as ‘social habits’ that occur within specific situations
that are common to those involved in the situation.
For Blumer, meanings are intersubjective and per-
ceived, and constantly reinterpreted among individ-
uals. There are no meanings inherent in the people
or objects which an actor confronts actors rather
place meanings upon such entities which are per-
ceived as unique (House, 1977). Behavior is simply
an actor’s idiosyncratic way of reacting to an inter-
pretation of a situation. It is therefore not to be
examined or predicted from antecedent knowledge
about how actors generally respond to given situa-
tions. This is impossible since each encounter is dif-
ferent from others (and therefore unique).
Understanding social behavior requires an interpre-
tive perspective that examines how behavior is
changing, unpredictable, and unique to each and
every social encounter.
Blumer’s theoretical contention was that human
behavioral patterns must be studied in forms of
action, and that human group life should be studied
in terms of what the participants do together in units
(Blumer, 1969; Shibutani, 1988). Blumer’s orienta-
tion toward social phenomena centers on the notion
of independent action: human society is distinctive
because of the capacity of each member to act
independently. Each person can regulate their
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
contribution so that the entire group is able to
achieve goals under diverse circumstances. This
viewpoint understands the agent’s role in society as
free and flexible; an individual reacts on his or her
own accord and without structural influence.
Blumer believed that any adequate explanation of
human social life must consider the autonomous con-
tributions of each participant (Shibutani, 1988).
Blumer’s theoretical orientation toward symbolic
interactionism can be summarized through three
premises (Blumer, 1969): (1) human beings act
toward things on the basis of the meanings that the
things have for them; (2) the meaning of things is
derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction
that one has with others; (3) meanings are handled
in, and modified through, an interpretive process
used by a person in dealing with the things they
encounter. While these three premises remain for
many the core tenets of symbolic interactionist
thought, some have noted a need for their expan-
sion. For example, Snow (2001) believes that sym-
bolic interactionism is better conceived around four
principles: the principle of interactive determination,
the principle of symbolization, the principle of emer-
gence, and the principle of human agency. For Snow,
these broader principles connect a wider array of
work to symbolic interactionism, helping scholars
understand the various tensions within the perspec-
tive (Snow, 2001: 375).
Since Mead never actually put his perspective
into writing and much of his work was published
posthumously, a proscription for methodology with-
in his symbolic interactionist framework was nonex-
istent until Blumer set out to develop an approach
using Mead’s ideas. Blumer was a staunch critic of
logical empiricism, and for him the idea that science
was the one and only true vehicle for discovering
truth was inherently flawed. For Blumer, any
methodology for understanding social behavior must
‘get inside’ the individual in order to see the world as
the individual perceives it. A sound methodologist
must take it as given that patterns of behavior are not
conducive for scientific insight as are other worldly
phenomena because behavior takes place on the basis
of an actor’s own particular meanings. Blumer’s
methodology emphasizes intimate understanding
rather than the intersubjective agreement among
investigators, which is a necessary condition for sci-
entific inquiry to have worth.
Blumer’s stance on social psychological method-
ology is particularly dismissive of empirically driven
research designs which employ the scientific method
to analyze loosely defined or standardized concepts.
Blumer felt that empirically verifiable knowledge of
social situations cannot be gleaned by using statisti-
cal techniques or hypothesis testing which employ
such established research methodology, but rather by
examining each social setting – i.e. each distinct
interaction among individuals – directly. Blumer’s
more subjective methodology attempts to measure
and understand an actor’s experience through ‘sym-
pathetic introspection’: the researcher takes the
standpoint of the actor whose behavior he or she is
studying and attempts to use the actor’s own cate-
gories in capturing the meanings for the actor during
social interactions. To summarize Blumer’s method-
ological approach, an understanding of social life
requires an understanding of the processes individu-
als use to interpret situations and experiences, and
how they construct their actions among other indi-
viduals in society.
The Iowa and Indian a Sch ools
While Blumer’s work has been seen as the most com-
prehensive overview of Mead’s symbolic interaction-
ist ideas, the methodological aspect of his perspective
was what Blumer saw as the most appropriate
approach to test Mead’s main tenets. Perhaps the
absence of a methodological dictum in Mead’s sym-
bolic interactionist approach is responsible for the
varieties of techniques that have been proposed fol-
lowing his work. According to Blumer, qualitative
methods of study are the only way to study human
behavior, by rigorously defining concepts and using
them to understand the nature of behavior.
However, other sociologists writing in the symbolic
interactionist perspective saw the study of interac-
tion as not limited to qualitative approaches.
Manford Kuhn (1964) and Sheldon Stryker (1980)
are two such sociologists who utilized positivist
methods in their studies of the relationship between
the self and social structure.
Stemming from his work in the mid-twentieth
century, Manford Kuhns positivism influenced a
new sociological tradition termed the ‘Iowa School’
of symbolic interactionism. Kuhn sought to recon-
cile Mead’s framework with rigorous, scientific test-
ing of symbolic interactionist principles. Kuhn and
the Iowa School emphasized process in interaction
and viewed behavior as ‘purposive, socially con-
structed, coordinated social acts informed by preced-
ing events in the context of projected acts that occur’
(Katovich et al., 2003: 122).
The basic theoretical underpinning of Kuhn is
summarized around four core themes (Katovich et
al., 2003): the first is that social interaction can be
examined through a cybernetic perspective that
emphasizes intentionality, temporality, and self-cor-
rection. Second, scientists should focus their atten-
tion on dyads, triads, and small groups as these are
the loci for most social behavior and interaction.
Third, while social behavior can be studied in its
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
natural form (i.e. in naturally occurring settings) it
should also be studied in a laboratory; incorporating
both environments allows us to articulate behaviors
and identify abstract laws for behavior which can be
universally applied to actors. And fourth, social sci-
entists must endeavor to create a more systematic
and rigorous vocabulary to identify the ontological
nature of sociality (i.e. operationalize concepts in a
much more thorough manner than what had been
previously accepted by social psychologists).
While Kuhn and those associated with the Iowa
School follow a symbolic interactionist framework
generally consistent with Mead, their methodologi-
cal stance directly contradicts that proposed by
Blumer. Rather than viewing quantitative analyses of
social interaction as abstract empiricism, Kuhn
asserted that the use of quantitative methods could
provide systematic testing of Mead’s theoretical prin-
ciples. Kuhn saw the study of the complexity of
social life and of selfhood as a scientific endeavor
requiring sociological analysis. He believed that
social science was indeed consistent with the quanti-
tative study of human behaviors and conceptions of
the self when properly executed.
Rather than relying on subjective survey respons-
es to assess attitudes toward the self, Kuhn developed
the Twenty Statements Test’ (TST). Following
Mead’s work on the emergence of the self through
interaction, Kuhns TST is based on self-disclosure of
respondents in answering the question ‘Who Am I?’
on 20 numbered lines. Kuhn believed that responses
to this question could provide a systematic study of
an individual’s self-attitudes and organization of
identities as they emerge from symbolic interaction
with others. By coding these responses, a researcher
may find both conventional and idiosyncratic reflec-
tions of social statuses and identities. Furthermore,
since the test relies on self-report, it serves as a useful
tool for discerning individual meanings without pre-
senting them as objective facts. Kuhn and the Iowa
School utilized the TST among other quantitative
measures (including data collected from laboratory
experiments) to attempt to predict how individuals
see themselves in situations, but did not focus solely
on conceptions of the self. Despite criticism of
Kuhns techniques as being deterministic or suc-
cumbing to reductionism, the Iowa School following
Kuhns work has contributed much to research
addressing the problematic nature of coordinated
social action as well as meanings as responses in
interaction.
Kuhns student and successor Carl Couch (1984;
Couch et al., 1986) continued the symbolic interac-
tionist tradition at Iowa, applying a more pragmatic
approach to the study of social phenomena and
using innovative experiments to understand interac-
tions among actors. Couch’s brand of interactionism
attempted to understand individuals’ orientations
toward one another across time and space, improv-
ing on the cross-sectional methodological approach
that mostly defined Kuhn’s research (Herman-
Kinney and Vershaeve, 2003). Couch’s role in
extending symbolic interactionist knowledge has led
many to differentiate the Iowa School as ‘old’ and
‘new,’ representing Kuhn’s and Couchs respective
influence during those eras.
Sheldon Stryker’s work is similar to Kuhns in its
scope as well as in methods employed. As Blumer
and Kuhn are associated with the Chicago and Iowa
Schools respectively, Stryker is a sociologist from
what is referred to as the ‘Indiana School’ of symbol-
ic interactionist thought, representing theory and
research generated in the mid to latter part of the
twentieth century at the University of Indiana.
While Mead and Blumer emphasized the fluid
nature of meanings and the self in interaction,
Stryker emphasized that meanings and interactions
led to relatively stable patterns that create and
uphold social structures. Stryker believed that sym-
bolic interactionist ideas could and should be tested
using both qualitative and quantitative methods.
According to Stryker, Mead’s work can be conceived
of as a ‘frame’ rather than a coherent theory with
testable propositions (Stryker, 2008: 17). Stryker
expanded symbolic interactionist ideas through
operationalizing variables that Mead presented
as general assumptions and concepts by hypothesiz-
ing and empirically testing relationships among
Mead’s concepts while incorporating elements of role
theory.
Stryker further expanded Mead’s concept of role-
taking in order to demonstrate the structural aspect
of interaction. Stryker’s work on roles treats social
roles as emerging from a reciprocal influence of net-
works or patterns of relationships in interactions as
they are shaped by various levels of social structures.
Stryker defines roles as ‘expectations which are
attached to [social] positions’; or ‘symbolic categories
[that] serve to cue behavior’ (Stryker, 1980: 57).
According to Stryker, expectations of roles vary
across situations and within the context of cultural
or social change. In taking the attitudes of others in
a situation, an individual uses ‘symbolic cues’ built
from prior experiences and normative expectations
of status from social positions to assess potential lines
of action. In this way, roles as they are attached to
positions may be analyzed as predictors of future
behavior for individuals in various social categories.
As with symbolic interactionism, Stryker’s struc-
tural role theory views socialization as the process
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
through which individuals learn normative expecta-
tions for actions as they relate to role relationships.
By building up from the person to the situation
within the larger social structure, Stryker showed the
reciprocity of the individual and society. In every sit-
uation, individuals identify themselves and others in
the context of social structure. Individuals then
reflexively apply what they perceive to be others
identifications of them that, over time, become
internalized expectations for behavior as part of the
self. These internalized expectations, when accepted
and enacted by individuals in various roles, become
identities. In emphasizing the impact social structure
has on how roles are played in interaction, Stryker’s
structural approach to symbolic interactionism is an
attempt to bridge the gap between micro- and
macro-sociological and social psychological theories.
Stryker’s structural symbolic approach therefore pro-
vides significant theoretical insights to social roles in
expanding symbolic interactionist concepts.
Review and assessment of empirical
research within the symbolic
interactionist tradition
During the twentieth century, symbolic interaction-
ist research held a prominent place within sociology
despite periods of backlash and criticism for being
unscientific, apolitical, and too micro (Fine, 1993).
Even though symbolic interactionism is often criti-
cized, there is little denying that it has been as pop-
ular and influential over the past half-century as any
competing sociological perspective; hundreds of
books, research articles, and monographs written in
its vein are evidence of this. This abundance of
research has led multiple scholars to note the diffi-
culty in summarizing advancements within the field.
In previous synopses of symbolic interactionism,
Hall (2003) and Plummer (1996) both noted that
any attempt to summarize the field must be – by
necessity – partial and selective. With the under-
standing that any article-length summary of the
research produced within symbolic interactionism
cannot be exhaustive, let us examine its substantive
areas of inquiry and a few empirical studies that have
defined the field.
Classical s ymbo lic interacti onis t r esearch
Although some may not specifically identify as a
symbolic interactionist, clear traces of interactionist
ideas are apparent across sociology, specifically in
ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967; Scott and
Lyman, 1968), dramaturgy (Goffman, 1959b),
research on the family (Stryker, 1959), theories on
identity and social roles (Burke and Stets, 2009;
Heise, 2002; MacKinnon, 1994; Stryker and Serpe,
1982), deviance (Becker, 1953), and phenomen -
ology (Schutz, 1962). Beyond these subfields, com-
mon areas of inquiry in symbolic interactionism
include social problems (Best, 2003), cultural studies
(Becker, 1982; Fine, 1996), semiotics (Manning,
2003), narratives (Reynolds and Herman-Kinney,
2003), feminism (Deegan and Hill, 1987; Thorne,
1993), neo-Marxism (Schwalbe, 1986), and post-
modernism (Gergen, 1991; Lemert, 1997;
Sandstrom and Fine, 2003). There have been signif-
icant developments in other areas (Hall, 2003),
including a resurgence in studies on pragmatism
(Joas, 1993; Maines and McCallion, 2007;
Plummer, 1996; Saxton, 1993; Shalin, 1986;
Strauss, 1993), work on collective behavior and
social movements (Lofland, 1996; McPhail, 1991;
Morris and Mueller, 1992; Snow et al., 1986; Stryker
et al., 2000), further studies on deviance, mostly
focusing on labeling theory and social problems
(Best, 1989; Conrad and Schneider, 1980; Loseke,
1999), research on temporality (Couch, 1984;
Flaherty, 1998; Maines et al., 1983; Strauss, 1993;
Zerubavel, 1985), and the implementation of emo-
tions and affect into studies on symbolic interaction
(Hochschild, 1979, 2003 [1983]; Scheff, 1979;
Shott, 1979).
One of the more famous examples of symbolic
interactionist scholarship was provided by Glaser
and Strauss (1964) in their examination of awareness
contexts that influence social interaction. These
scholars noted how social interactions vary by struc-
ture, awareness of members, and tactics of maintain-
ing awareness/unawareness. For example, nurses in
hospitals often must interact with patients who are
terminal but unaware of the severity of their condi-
tion. Glaser and Strauss’s work showed how, in
examples such as this, the knowledge of a patient’s
condition is controlled and kept from the patient.
Here, the awareness of impending death is construct-
ed and avoided in order to maintain a patient’s
positive outlook and psychological well-being.
In other classic studies, Brooks (1969) examined
the relationship between the self and political ideol-
ogy, revealing that how one identifies depends on
their political orientation (specifically, he examined
how self-views correlate with right-wing or left-wing
ideologies). Stryker’s (1957) work on role-taking
applied symbolic interactionist ideas to understand
why family members often have differing levels of
commitment to their family roles. Glaser (1956)
showed how criminal behavior can best be under-
stood using a social psychological lens.
One of the most famous interactionist studies
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
was provided by Becker (1953) in his work on
becoming a marihuana user, where he showed how
‘feeling high’ when using marihuana is a social
construction rather than a physiological, internal
motivational state caused by the drug. Becker
revealed that in marihuana users, feeling high
requires both the presence and recognition of the
drug’s symptoms – and recognition of the drug’s
symptoms is constructed socially through interac-
tions with others. Applied more broadly, Becker’s
study shows how role behaviors are socialized and
acquired through interactions with others. Becker’s
marihuana study had a massive influence, not only
for symbolic interactionists but on the field of soci-
ology, as it challenged and widened the boundaries
of what was considered acceptable for rigorous study.
To this day, when students read ‘Becoming a mari-
huana user’ they realize how creative one can be as a
researcher; Becker was instrumental in inspiring
scholars to dare to examine unique, taboo, and eso-
teric phenomena not studied by others.
Another seminal study was conducted by
Rosengren (1961), who examined the nature of self-
meanings in those who are ‘emotionally disturbed.’
Here, young boys who were institutionalized were
studied to identify how self-meanings change over
time, specifically how self-meanings shift based on
how individuals believe they are seen by others. By
examining an institutional setting where the boys
experienced continuous, close contact with others,
Rosengren was able to study change in self-meanings
more rapidly than what normally occurs in individ-
uals. His study was important in demonstrating how
Mead’s ideas could be applied in a testable environ-
ment and in revealing how to conceive a research
design capable of measuring symbolic interactionist
concepts. Continuing the theme of studying individ-
uals in an institutionalized setting, Daniels (1972)
revealed how psychiatric diagnoses in the military are
socially constructed. Here he showed how diagnoses
of mental illness are dependent not only on patients’
symptoms in institutionalized settings, but also by
doctors’ awareness of the consequences that a specif-
ic diagnostic label may have for the patient.
The previously described studies by Glaser and
Strauss, Becker, Daniels, et al. are revered today for
their innovative genius, and for providing a founda-
tion for how symbolic interaction theory can be
applied to understand the contexts of everyday life.
Perhaps more than anything, these classic studies
inspired a future generation of scholars to apply sym-
bolic interactionist theory in novel ways. Let us now
examine the research trajectories that followed or
were influenced by – the classical era in symbolic
interactionist research.
Dram aturgical analysis
One of the most important symbolic interactionist
theorists of the classical era was Erving Goffman,
though some might hesitate to classify his work as
representing purely an interactionist standpoint.
Regardless, interactionist themes are found through-
out Goffmans work: symbols, shared meaning, iden-
tity – all are common elements in his scholarship,
which spanned multiple decades and influenced a
legion of sociologists. To this day, Goffman contin-
ues to be one of the most inspirational and cited
sociologists.
Goffmans seminal book The Presentation of Self
in Everyday Life (1959b) used the metaphor of a the-
atrical performance as a framework to describe how
actors present themselves to others, and how they
attempt to control others’ impressions to be seen
positively. Here Goffman documented the myriad
strategies actors use in face-to-face interactions to
manage impressions. Other work by Goffman
(1959a, 1961) examined the ‘moral career’ of mental
patients and the impact of total institutions on indi-
viduals. Here he studied how individuals’ identities
are altered – indeed redefined – when placed in insti-
tutionalized settings, noting the mechanisms by
which people’s self-definitional meanings change
when being removed from significant others and
immersed in a psychiatric hospital.
Goffman’s (1963b) later work on stigma
addressed how those with ‘spoiled identities’ (e.g.
those with physical deformities, drug addicts, prosti-
tutes) have difficulty in negotiating their environ-
ment due to others’ hesitation or refusal in accepting
them. Goffmans work also addressed how rituals
influence social interactions (Goffman, 1967), prop-
er etiquette for behaving in public places (Goffman,
1963a), and how actors use frames to interpret real-
ity and organize experience (Goffman, 1974).
Cultural studies an d postmoder ni sm
Scholars have also applied symbolic interactionist
thought to a variety of sociological subfields. Many
have applied symbolic interactionism to cultural
studies (Becker and McCall, 1993; Carey, 1989;
Diawara, 1996; Giroux, 2001) and even postmod-
ernism (Maines, 1996). Norman K Denzin’s (1983,
1985, 1991, 1992, 2008) work provides a multifac-
eted and inventive application of interactionist theo-
ry to these fields, incorporating ideas from
poststructural theory and focusing on the politics of
interpretation. For example, Denzin has applied
symbolic interactionist theory to better understand
alcoholism, examining the alcoholic self and the
processes of an alcoholic’s recovery (Denzin, 1987,
1993). Others have also applied interactionist
themes to cultural studies and/or postmodernism,
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Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
specifically regarding semiotics and narratives
(Manning, 2003), qualitative research methodolo-
gies (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005), sickness and health
(Charmaz, 1991), and experiences in the workplace
(Fine, 1996).
Gender, status, and power
Many have found symbolic interactionism useful for
understanding the construction of gender and sexu-
ality. West and Zimmerman’s (1987) ‘Doing gender’
set the stage for social constructionist research on
gender and sexuality. The concept of ‘doing gender’
demonstrates the socially constructed nature of mas-
culinity and femininity as developing out of repeat-
ed, patterned interaction and socialization processes.
The authors contend that gender emerges through
interaction, directly contradicting the normative per-
spective of gender as an innate state of being or indi-
vidual quality. West and Zimmerman additionally
expanded on Goffman’s (1976) treatment of gender
displays by demonstrating the salience of gender in
interaction as a master status. According to West and
Zimmerman, individuals are constantly assessed for
their gender performances in both interactional and
institutional contexts; thus, ‘doing gender’ is
unavoidable because sex category membership is
attached to the allocation of power and resources
across various social institutions. West and
Zimmerman’s social constructionist approach to
gender and sex hugely impacted sociology as well as
gender and feminist studies.
In other research, Estes and Edmonds (1981)
advocated for the use of symbolic interactionist ideas
in policy research, suggesting that WI Thomas’s ‘def-
inition of the situation’ could be applied to under-
stand power relations, specifically to understand why
those in higher status positions are more successful
in defining situations to assert dominance. These
scholars showed how interactionist theory is fruitful
for policy research in (1) formulating policies
through negotiation in a structural context, (2)
implementing policies by emphasizing multiple
interpretations of policy intent, and (3) influencing
meaning for those who are objects of the policies as
well as differential effects and social relationships
(Estes and Edmonds, 1981: 77). Due to symbolic
interactionist emphasis on meanings, the application
of these concepts in policy formulation and imple-
mentation ensures that experiences and meanings of
those in lower status groups are viewed as significant
as those in high status groups. The authors asserted
that basic (or ‘pure’) research should incorporate
competing and dominant definitions of the situation
and a description of how these definitions are creat-
ed and maintained. These definitions include what is
defined as the problem, the population defined as a
problem,’ and the formulation of policy to assuage
the issue. Similarly, applied research using the sym-
bolic interactionist framework should focus on
processes associated with the policies and the result-
ing social change or inhibition of social change.
Here, the symbolic interactionist emphasis on social
actions and their consequences may inform
researchers of key factors of policy design and the
experiences and meanings actors attach to them.
In a similar vein, Candace West (1984) observed
21 patient–physician interactions during doctor vis-
its at a family practice in the southern United States
to assess status implications of interactions. West uti-
lized already existing recordings of patient–physician
interactions and transcribed and coded them for
interruptions (defined as speaking over the current
speaker more than a syllable away from the transition
to their turn at speaking) (West, 1984: 91).
Following West and Zimmermans (1977, 1983)
studies of interruptions in cross-sex interactions,
West sought to explore power dynamics between
male and female physicians and their patients. While
West and Zimmerman found that men talk more
than women in cross-sex interactions and are more
likely to interrupt the other sex, the higher status of
a medical authority led physicians to interrupt
patients 67% of the time. However, when looking at
the sex of the physician, male physicians interrupted
68% of the time compared to female physicians who
interrupted 32% of the time. While there were only
four female physicians, results of the study showed
that their patients interrupted as much or more than
physicians. West, however, noted that the two
encounters with female patients and female physi-
cians had symmetrical interruptions. Concluding the
research, the author asserted that male physicians
interrupt more in order to assert dominance over
patients. West suggested this contradicts prior
research that found doctors to disproportionately
interrupt patients without analyzing the sex of the
physician and patient. West concluded by noting
that research on these interactions should examine
the effect of gender as a ‘master status’ that may
trump other power relations such as physician status.
Schilt (2006) followed West’s work in her study
of transmen’s experiences at work post-transition.
Combining West and Zimmerman’s concept of
‘doing gender,’ Connell’s (1995) ‘patriarchal divi-
dend,’ and Collins’s (1991) ‘outsider-within’ con-
cept, Schilts study demonstrated how gender and
workplace inequality are reproduced through narra-
tives of transmen who saw upward mobility, an
increase of perceived competency, and other status
privileges after transitioning to male. Other research
has applied a symbolic interactionist framework to
understand relationships among gender, culture,
8
Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
identity, emotions, and personal change (Schrock
and Padavic, 2007; Schrock and Schwalbe, 2009;
Vaccaro et al., 2011).
Self and identity
Over the past decades many scholars have applied an
interactionist framework to understand self and
identity processes, specifically in the areas of role the-
ory, affect control theory, and identity theory. Ralph
Turner’s (Turner, 1956, 1990; Turner and Killian,
1987) role theory emphasized role-making, or the
process of creating and modifying definitions of one-
self and one’s roles as the orienting mechanism in
interaction (Turner, 1962). He emphasized the dual
nature of role relations, emphasizing that role expec-
tations must always be understood in relation to the
counter-role in which they are juxtaposed (e.g. one
cannot understand the motivations or meanings of
being a worker without understanding the corre-
sponding role of manager). Turner’s role theory
attempted to capture not only the ways in which
individuals define role expectations themselves, but
also how role expectations are embedded in the
social structure. His theory highlighted that the self
is as much a sociological as psychological entity.
Turner’s role theory was a formalized system, involv-
ing a series of axiomatic propositions that addressed
how roles emerge in individuals and how they relate
to society (Turner, 1968).
Other symbolic interactionist work on self and
identity is found in the work of scholars aligned with
affect control theory, who have shown how individ-
uals reduce uncertainty about their existence by
developing a working understanding of their social
worlds (Heise, 1999, 2002; MacKinnon, 1994;
Robinson and Smith-Lovin, 2006). Affect control
theory allows one to predict what individuals will do
when others violate expectations in social situations,
or specifically how individuals act to restore identi-
ties when they have been discredited, based on an
individual’s definition of events and the emotional
reaction they have to such events. Research in affect
control theory has shown that individuals construct
events in order to confirm fundamental meanings
regarding self and others, and how individuals use
emotions as indicators for whether events are played
out as expected or not. When individuals experience
emotional outcomes in a situation that are different
from what is expected in one’s culture, a ‘deflection
occurs, motivating the individual to restore mean-
ings of self and situation back to the cultural stan-
dard. Affect control theory is a cumulative theory of
identity, emotions, and behavior that has established
an extensive research program over the past half-cen-
tury, with new empirical studies being published
every year (Rogers and Robinson, 2014; Rogers et
al., 2014).
Those who work in identity theory have also pro-
duced an extensive program of research under the
umbrella of symbolic interactionism (Burke and
Stets, 2009; Serpe and Stryker, 2011). In identity
theory, Mead’s theories on the reflexivity of self and
society are applied to understand how identities
motivate behavior and emotions in social situations.
Research in this vein has three main emphases that
all focus on the structural nature of identities. One
emphasis, stemming from the work of Stryker et al.,
reveals how behavior is a function of how committed
and salient one’s identities are in their overall identi-
ty hierarchy (Brenner et al., 2014; Merolla et al.,
2012). Research in this area has examined how a
salient blood donor identity predicts the frequency
of giving blood (Callero and Piliavin, 1983), and
how a salient religious identity influences one’s time
spent praying and attending religious services
(Stryker and Serpe, 1982). Some of the most recent
research in this area has applied structural identity
theory to understand how ‘hookup scenes’ serve as
opportunity structures to explore same-sex attrac-
tions, and for women, to verify bisexual, lesbian, or
queer sexual identities (Rupp et al., 2014).
A second area within identity theory examines
roles and how identities operate to motivate behav-
ior during interactions (McCall and Simmons,
1978). Role identity theory has remained more the-
oretical than empirical, as a cumulative research pro-
gram is yet to emerge within this area. A third
variant of identity theory examines identities, behav-
ior, and emotions as a process of cybernetic control
(Burke, 1991). Here, individuals’ identity meanings
are standards by which to compare the self to others
in social situations. Individuals have a main goal of
verifying identity meanings among others in the
environment in order to feel positive emotions.
Recent research in this area has shown how ones
moral identity predicts moral behavior (Carter,
2013; Stets and Carter, 2006, 2011, 2012), how sta-
tus mediates identity processes (Stets and Harrod,
2004; Stets et al., 2008), and how various cognitive
and behavioral outcomes emerge for those with a
criminal identity (Asencio, 2013; Asencio and
Burke, 2011).
Collective beh avior and soc ial movements
Scholars have also applied symbolic interactionist
ideas to understand collective behavior and social
movements. For example, Britt and Heise’s (2000)
work has applied identity theory to social move-
ments to understand how participants construct
clear categories of oppressed versus oppressor, and
9
Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
how a previously stigmatized identity (causing nega-
tive emotions) transforms into an identity recog-
nized by the movement (causing positive emotions).
Further, this work demonstrates how members of
movements construct identities for themselves as vic-
tims of marginalization due to institutional and
structural processes rather than individual deficien-
cies or flaws. Beyond this, this work describes the
importance of the social processes of identity con-
struction during both formal and informal interac-
tions between members of the movement
including newsletters for prison inmates, college
courses and campus organizations, cultural commu-
nities, etc.
Verta Taylor (Taylor, 2000; Taylor and Whittier,
1992) has also applied interactionist theory to better
understand identity processes and emotions in social
movement communities, collecting data from vari-
ous self-help and identity movements such as post-
partum depression movements (Taylor, 1996),
movements of women convicted of infanticide dur-
ing postpartum depression (Taylor and Leitz, 2010),
and queer movements and global feminist political
movements (Hurwitz and Taylor, 2012). Taylor and
colleagues have combined affect control theory,
identity theory, and social movement theory to bet-
ter understand various social movements in society.
In more recent work that applies Stryker’s identi-
ty theory, Viterna (2013) examined how micro-
processes of identities served as mobilizing factors for
women in El Salvador during times of war. White
(2010) applied a structural identity framework to
understand Irish Republican activist movements and
observed that over time, members entered and exit-
ed roles (identity transitions) that caused changes in
the salience of their role identities (identity transfor-
mation). Members of various Irish Republican
activist movements consistently joined or created
factions, and over time many activists left move-
ments in favor of family and other roles.
Social con text and the environm ent
There also is research that applies symbolic interac-
tionist ideas to understand social context and the
environment. For example, Smith and Bugni (2006)
proposed three ways in which symbolic interaction-
ism and studies of the self may be useful for architec-
ture. First, symbolic interactionism recognizes the
mutual influence of physical environments and the
development of the self. Second, symbolic interac-
tionism allows researchers to study the symbolic
meanings of designed environments. Third, symbol-
ic interactionism reveals the influence of designed
environments and buildings on our actions and
reflexivity (Smith and Bugni, 2006: 124). Mead long
ago posited that non-social objects can constitute the
generalized other such that individuals may interact
with the environment and behave reflexively despite
the inability of objects to respond. Furthermore,
William James classified the material self as part of
the empirical self, which includes non-social objects
and places. Along with the social self and the spiritu-
al self, James suggested that these objects influence
the development and maintenance of the self. These
objects and designed environments further influence
how roles are played and how status is created and
maintained, such as spatial segregation by gender in
office settings. The authors further suggested that
symbolic interactionist concepts can be applied to
better understand school environments, retirement
homes, and sacred places that shape meaning and
interaction with the environment.
In other work, Robinson (2007) applied symbol-
ic interactionist ideas to understand how the self is
constructed in online environments. Discounting
postmodernist assertions that the online self is an
attempt to shed the offline identity, Robinson cited
research suggesting that role players incorporate their
offline identities into their identities online. The
individual becomes immersed in a new character,
thus highlighting the constraint of having one iden-
tity associated with a physical body offline. Further,
because many multi-user domains require users to
create an identity (including a gender) before play-
ing, offline norms permeate online identities. The
bodies that players engender in their games are high-
ly idealized versions of masculinity and femininity.
Thus offline norms are reproduced in online envi-
ronments, far from being completely removed from
social structures and statuses of everyday reality.
Robinson also applied the creation and maintenance
of online and offline identities to Mead’s ‘I’ and ‘me
concepts, where the ‘I’ consists of multiple online
identities and selves while the person maintains their
singular ‘me.’ Robinson further likened the emer-
gence of the ‘cyberself’ as a product of interaction
through reflexivity to the same socialization process
that creates the self offline. Finally, Robinson argued
for the efficacy of symbolic interactionist and dra-
maturgical analyses of performances in chat rooms
and other online interactions, which lack the usual
sensory cues (e.g. Goffman’s ‘expressions given off ’),
but allow for other contextual clues as to the authen-
ticity of one’s performance. Given the technological
advances in the years since Robinson’s article, more
empirical research on the cyberself in the symbolic
interactionist tradition would likely lead to new
findings regarding interaction through digital media.
The studies described above provide examples of
symbolic interactionist thought that have emerged in
10
Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
both the distant and recent past. Of course, there are
literally hundreds of other symbolic interactionist
studies one could summarize in this article. But
those addressed here provide a conception of the
common work in the discipline. Let us now turn our
attention to the future of symbolic interactionism.
Future directions of symbolic
interactionism
Over a decade ago Sandstrom and Fine (2003)
offered a set of predictions regarding the future of
symbolic interactionism. The first prediction was
that moving forward, symbolic interactionism would
succeed in maintaining its label, familiarity, and pop-
ularity within sociology. A second prediction was
that symbolic interactionism would become more
characterized by diversity in theoretical and method-
ological applications to topics of interest, forcing the
field to abandon old distinctions made by those in
the Chicago and Iowa/Indiana traditions. A third
prediction was that symbolic interactionists would
begin to place a greater emphasis on the develop-
ment of macro-level concepts and analysis aimed at
understanding relationships among large-scale socie-
tal entities. A final prediction was that the continued
triumphs of symbolic interactionism would likely
lead to its demise, as the concepts that once were
unique to those in the discipline would inevitably
become more diffuse and integrated into mainstream
sociology.
Looking back, it seems that some of Sandstrom
and Fines predictions have been realized, though not
all of them. The first prediction is certainly docu-
mented: symbolic interactionism continues to be a
highly recognized subfield in sociology, and it con-
tinues to serve as an organizing force, both themati-
cally in academic journals and structurally with its
organizational entity, the Society for the Study for
Symbolic Interactionism (SSSI). There also is evi-
dence supporting the second prediction, though one
might question whether interactionist scholarship is
truly more diverse in theory and method than in the
past. It also seems extreme to claim that the distinc-
tions between traditional (Chicago School) and
structural (Iowa and Indiana Schools) symbolic
interactionism have diminished. Scholars might not
state their orientations or alignment with one school
as much as in the past, but those trained in the
Blumerian tradition still tend to publish more quali-
tative research, while those trained in the
Kuhn/Stryker tradition still tend to publish more
quantitative research. It might be more appropriate
to say that symbolic interactionism in the past
decade has been more defined by novel research
topics and areas of inquiry than by innovations in the-
ory and method. There is evidence for this: recent
articles in the journal Symbolic Interaction feature
studies on coffee breaks (Stroebaek, 2013), identity
construction in World of Warcraft MMO role playing
gaming (Linderoth, 2012), and even the experience
of those who belong to support groups aimed at cop-
ing with inflammatory bowel disease (Thompson,
2013).
To this point, Sandstrom and Fine’s third predic-
tion is not evident to any significant degree. There
have been a few isolated studies that have applied
symbolic interactionist ideas to greater levels of
analysis (Dennis and Martin, 2005; Salvini, 2010),
but even in these studies the true level of analysis
seems to be rooted more in micro-level processes
than directed at the macro realm. It seems the most
macro applications of symbolic interactionist
thought still address social movements and collective
behavior (Goodwin and Jasper, 2004; Stryker,
2008), and that much remains to be done regarding
applying symbolic interactionist thought to better
understanding macro-level structures and large-scale
aggregates.
Regarding the final prediction, the ‘demise’ of
symbolic interactionism has not occurred at least
not yet. Students of sociology still learn that symbol-
ic interactionism is a discrete perspective/framework
within sociology proper, and concepts such as
Mead’s ‘I’ and ‘me’ and Cooley’s (1902) ‘looking
glass self ’ are still largely attributed to symbolic
interactionism. Symbolic interactionism continues
to be a widely recognized subfield and perspective
within sociology.
Writing about the same time as Sandstrom and
Fine, Hall (2003) cited multiple areas of inquiry
future symbolic interactionists should address. The
first regards interaction orders, specifically the areas of
race, class, and gender. The second regards institu-
tional analysis, where symbolic interactionists lend
their perspective and methodology to understand
policy creation at the meso-level to better under-
stand how behavior in organizational settings
becomes institutionalized through a process of social
construction over time (Estes and Edmonds’ work
described above begins to answer this request). The
third topic regards turning attention toward better
understanding collective action across space and time.
Addressing collective action seems more and more
necessary as individuals’ actions in the present world
are more and more directed toward future events and
activities; much of the past work in symbolic inter-
actionism has examined elements within a situation
in isolation while disregarding how individuals with-
in situations are oriented toward future interactions
(Collins’s [2004] work on interaction ritual chains
11
Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
attempts to correct this problem), so considering
space/time dimensional factors that connect interac-
tions seems important. A fourth topic follows the
last, and regards spatiotemporal orders (Friedland and
Boden, 1994) where interactionists continue to
observe how time and space are constructed to shape
conditions, consciousness, and actions (Hall, 2003).
Let us conclude by citing a few areas beyond
those mentioned by Sandstrom, Fine, and Hall that
future interactionists should attend to. One area of
inquiry regards relationships among the individual,
technology, and society. The past decade has witnessed
incredible advancements in communication technol-
ogy, such as the emergence and ubiquity of social
media, the ever increasing reliance and use of cell
phones, and of course the Internet. If there ever was
a time when technological innovations have rede-
fined the manner in which interactions and shared
meaning occur, it is now. More and more, virtual
communication technologies are taking the place of
traditional, face-to-face interactions. One can only
wonder how Herbert Blumer and Erving Goffman
would comment on modern means of communica-
tion! Technological developments that assist in or
take the place of interactions must be a focus for
symbolic interaction moving forward. And, of
course, many scholars across the past decade have
addressed technology and interaction beyond
Robinsons work described above (Altheide, 2004;
Brickell, 2012; Fernback, 2007; Gottschalk, 2010;
Williams and Copes, 2005; Yurchisin et al., 2005;
Zhao, 2005).
Neurosociology is another area in sociology that
symbolic interactionists should turn their attention
to in future studies. Over the past decade advance-
ments in neuroscience have caught the attention of
some sociologists who study micro-level processes
(Franks, 2010; Franks and Turner, 2013; Shkurko,
2012). For example, some have applied neuroscience
to understand basic elements of interpersonal behav-
ior often addressed by symbolic interactionists,
specifically the areas of social cognition and mind
(Franks, 2013; Hopcroft, 2013; Humphreys and
Bedford, 2011; Maryanski, 2013; Shook, 2013).
Others have applied neuroscience to understand
familiar sociological processes, such as aggression
(Bufkin and Luttrell, 2005; Mehta et al., 2013;
Siever, 2008), self and identity processes (Arzy et al.,
2008; Gillihan and Farah, 2005; Molnar-Szakacs
and Uddin, 2013; Niemeyer, 2013), stereotyping
and prejudice (Amodio and Lieberman, 2009;
Brauer and Er-rafiy, 2011; Nelson, 2013), and even
inequality (Davis, 2013). Neurosociology promises
to be one of the cutting edge subfields in sociology,
and symbolic interactionists have much to learn
from (and offer to) neuroscientists as these
fields continue to merge.
Lastly, we echo Sandstrom and Fine’s point that
symbolic interactionists need to continue to turn
attention toward the macro realm. Fine (1993) has
been noting this need for decades, but few are yet to
seriously address how symbolic interactionists can
help understand the link between micro and macro
structures. Work on micro–macro connections in
recent decades can be seen in the work of Bourdieu
(1977), Habermas (1984), and Giddens (1984). The
theories of these well-known sociologists both
implicitly and explicitly incorporate symbolic inter-
actionist concepts to understand macro-level
processes. Bourdieu’s work highlights the constraint
of social structures in defining individual habitus, or
dispositions, and how this produces subjective
meanings as well as objective consequences and life
chances. Habermas emphasizes the need for commu-
nicative action, or discourse based on mutual under-
standing and shared meaning in influencing political
change and in creating a truly democratic society.
Giddens, following the symbolic interactionist
emphasis on communication, discusses the mutual
reinforcement of society and the individual at the
level of the interaction in his ‘structuration’ theory.
These theorists successfully bridge macro- and
micro-sociological concepts in a way that demon-
strates the significance of interaction and meaning in
producing the very structures that both enable and
constrain individual behavior. The age-old sociolog-
ical debate of micro versus macro theories seems to
end with the synthesis of both as equally important
and inseparable units of analysis within the disci-
pline. While these theorists have been relatively suc-
cessful in addressing the micro and macro, symbolic
interactionists should turn their attention and offer
their own perspective to better understand the link
between micro- and macro-social processes.
Conclusion
In this essay we have discussed the three main theo-
retical perspectives in symbolic interactionism, sur-
veyed and assessed the empirical studies that have
emerged over the past decades, and provided recom-
mendations for areas of inquiry to which future
scholars of symbolic interactionism should attend.
We have contended that the symbolic interactionist
framework, despite fragmentation and expansion
throughout the years, is a perspective with historical
as well as contemporary significance for the field of
sociology. Rather than pointing to the variety of
theories and methodologies that have emerged since
Mead’s work as evidence of the demise of symbolic
interactionism, we posit that the diversity of
12
Carter and Fuller Symbo li c in ter act ionis m
sociological work in the symbolic interactionist tra-
dition is evidence of its utility and well-deserved
endurance within the discipline. Furthermore, future
directions for symbolic interactionist theories and
research are constantly emerging. Because of this, we
believe the future of the perspective is bright.
Annotated further reading
Blumer H (1969) Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and
Method. Berkeley: University of California Press.
In this seminal work, Blumer delineates symbolic
interactionism as a distinct sociological framework.
In developing the ideas of GH Mead into a set of
basic propositions, Blumer’s text is perhaps the
definitive source on interactionist theory and
method. This work inspired a legion of scholars in
the years to come after its publication, and it remains
an often-cited work across sociology.
Denzin NK (1992) Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural
Studies: The Politics of Interpretation. Malden, MA:
Blackwell.
In this book Denzin charts the history of symbolic
interactionism, spanning a century of social thought
beginning with American pragmatism and ending
with postmodern and poststructuralist thought of the
latter twentieth century. Denzin uses a cultural,
interpretive lens and applies symbolic interactionism
to understand various topics, including history,
politics, and feminism.
Fine GA (1993) The sad demise, mysterious
disappearance, and glorious triumph of symbolic
interactionism. Annual Review of Sociology 19:
61–87.
In this now classic essay, Fine discusses changes that
occurred within symbolic interactionism in the latter
part of the twentieth century. The mainstreaming of
symbolic interactionist thought is discussed, and how
the intellectual community of interactionists
weakened over the years due to the diversity of
interests within the field. Fine cites four occurrences
that led to this weakening, including fragmentation,
expansion, incorporation, and adoption. Fine also
describes the role of symbolic interactionism in three
debates within sociology, the micro/macro debate,
the structure/agency debate, and the social
realist/interpretivist debate. The article ends with a
summary of empirical arenas in which interactions
have made contributions (social coordination theory,
sociology of emotions, social constructionism, self
and identity theory, macro-interactionism, and
policy-relevant research).
Mead GH (1934) Mind, Self, and Society from the
Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
This classic work provided the inspiration for Blumer
in his creation and development of symbolic
interactionism. Published posthumously, Mind, Self,
and Society is a collection of Mead’s notes and
lectures that together lay the groundwork for his
brand of social behaviorism. Here Mead’s classic
concepts are presented, including ‘taking the role of
the other,’ the self as a dichotomoy of the ‘I’ and the
‘me,’ and the ‘play, game, and generalized other’
stages of development. It is required reading for any
student of sociological social psychology.
Shott S (1976) Society, self, and mind in moral
philosophy: The Scottish Moralists as precursors of
symbolic interactionism. Journal of the History of the
Behavioral Sciences 12(1): 39–46.
Shott provides a concise summary of the influence of
Scottish Moralist thought on symbolic
interactionism. She reveals how GH Mead’s
conception of the self as an internal dialogue between
the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ and the notion of the ‘generalized
other’ were foreshadowed by Adam Smith and others
in the Scottish Moralist tradition. In addition,
symbolic interactionist treatment of emotions,
communication, political structures, and sympathy is
compared and contrasted to the Scottish Moralists.
Stryker S (1980) Symbolic Interactionism: A Social
Structural Version. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin
Cummings.
In this book Stryker provides the framework for what
has come to be known as structural symbolic
interactionism. Diverging from Blumer’s notion that
society is constantly changing and in flux, Stryker
develops a symbolic interactionist framework that
emphasizes the patterns and stable social structures
that influence individuals in society. Now a classic
and seminal text in its own right, Stryker’s Symbolic
Interactionism has influenced a wide variety of
contemporary research programs in sociology,
including identity theory and affect control theory.
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Michael J Carter is Assistant Professor of Sociology at California State University, Northridge.
His main research interests are in social psychology, specifically the areas of self and identity.
Recent publications include ‘Advancing identity theory: Examining the relationship between
activated identities and behavior in different social contexts’ in Social Psychology Quarterly, and
A theory of the self for the sociology of morality’ (with Jan E Stets) in American Sociological
Review. [email: michael.carter@csun.edu]
Celene Fuller is adjunct lecturer of sociology at California State University, Northridge. Her
main research interests are in gender and sexuality, social psychology, and social inequality. Her
current research examines the stigma of bisexuality within the LGBT+ movement and within
larger society.
résumé L’interactionnisme symbolique est une perspective théorique de la microsociologie qui étudie
le comportement des personnes en société et les processus dynamiques d’interaction. Cet article nous
donne un aperçu de trois traditions théoriques de l’interactionnisme symbolique et se concentre sur les
travaux d’Herbert Blumer (l’école de Chicago), Manford Kuhn (l’école de l’Iowa) et Sheldon Stryker (l’é-
cole de l’Indiana). Un bref résumé de la perspective globale de chaque figure dans l’interactionnisme sym-
bolique est effectuée, suivie d’une discussion de la méthodologie de recherche qui définit et distingue
chaque théorie. Nous faisons également une analyse pour évaluer la recherche empirique qui a émergé de
ces traditions théoriques au cours des dernières décennies. Nous concluons par une discussion sur les ori-
entations futures que doivent suivre les interactionnistes symbolique, afin de continuer à développer ce
domaine.
mots-clés interactionnisme symbolique microsociologie la psychologie sociale
resumen El interaccionismo simbólico es una perspectiva teórica a nivel micro en sociología que estu-
dia la manera en la que los individuos crean y mantienen una sociedad a través de repetidas interacciones
cara a cara y llenas de significado. En este artículo ofrecemos una perspectiva general de las tres tradi-
ciones teóricas en el interaccionismo simbólico, enfocándonos en el trabajo de Herbert Blumer (escuela
de Chicago), Manford Kuhn (escuela de Iowa), y Sheldon Stryker (escuela de Indiana). Se ofrece un breve
resumen sobre la perspectiva general del interaccionismo simbólico en cada una de estas figuras, seguido
de un debate sobre la metodología investigadora que define y distingue a cada uno de ellos. A contin-
uación se analiza y se evalúa la investigación empírica que ha surgido de estas tradiciones a lo largo de las
últimas décadas. Concluimos con un debate sobre las direcciones futuras a las que los interaccionistas
simbólicos deben prestar atención para continuar el desarrollo de este campo.
palabras clave interaccionismo simbólico microsociología psicología social
... This study is rooted in social constructivism [21][22][23], taking the stance that meaning making, language (both verbal, non-verbal and symbolic) and processing of these forms the basis of human behavior. Living in closed, densely populated quarters with inevitable group interactions [24], ongoing and sometimes "forced" communication under conditions of intense institutional surveillance will have formed the basis of health behavior experiences of migrant workers under lockdown [25]. ...
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Full-text available
Background The first wave of COVID-19 during April to July 2020 in Singapore largely affected the migrant workers living in residential dormitories. A government taskforce working with dormitory operators, employers and non-government agencies came together to deliver behavioral interventions and health care services for migrant worker as dorms were imposed movement restrictions. To fill the research gap in understanding movement restriction experiences of migrant workers, this research seeks to describe dormitory contexts and explore behavior change related to both prevention of transmission as well as healthcare seeking for COVID-19 among male migrant workers. Methods With social constructivism as the foundation for this study, 23 telephone interviews were conducted with Bangladeshi and Indian migrant workers. A theory-informed, data-driven conceptual framework, characterized by the “Four Ss”: Sensitization, Surveillance, Self-preservation, and Segregation was first generated and later used to frame second-stage, more in-depth, thematic analyses. An effective multipronged approach was documented, persuading migrant workers in our case-study to improve hygiene and follow some safe distancing measures, and adhere to help-seeking when symptomatic. Results Rapid collective adaptation was demonstrated; it was propped up by effective harnessing of infrastructure and technology. While technology and digital platforms were central to shaping Sensitization for prevention-related behaviors, interpersonal communication, especially peer-sharing, was key to normalizing and accepting healthcare delivery and norms about healthcare seeking. Interpersonal factors particularly supported successful implementation of case-detection Surveillance, stimulating Self-preserving and acceptance of rules, and was found helpful to those Segregated in recovery facilities. In contrast, encouraging prevention-related behaviors relied more heavily on multiple online-platforms, phone-based e-learning/knowledge testing, e-monitoring of behavior, as well as interpersonal exchanges. Conclusion Overall, the findings showed that the conception of the Four Ss helped inform intervention strategies. Anchoring these towards optimal use of technology and harnessing of interpersonal communication for prevention and promotion of healthcare seeking in the planning of future Infectious Disease outbreaks in closed institutional settings is recommended.
... The theoretical framework for this research project is Social World's Theory, which originally emerged from the Chicago School of Sociology (Clarke, 1991). Social world theorists perceive social structure as being shaped and defined by repeated interactions between individuals (Carter & Fuller, 2015), so that society is conceptualized as a mosaic of neighbouring social worlds, which may intersect with each other (Clarke, 1991;Strauss, 1978). Thus, individuals can simultaneously not only belong to but also construct multiple social worlds (Maclean et al., 2021). ...
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Aim This study explored workplace interactions of Australian nurses in regional acute care hospitals through an examination of nurses' experiences and perceptions of workplace behaviour. Design This research is informed by Social Worlds Theory and is the qualitative component of an overarching mixed methods sequential explanatory study. Methods Between January and March 2019, data were collected from 13 nursing informants from different occupational levels and roles, who engaged in semi‐structured, in‐depth, face‐to‐face interviews. Data analysis was guided by Straussian grounded theory to identify the core category and subcategories. Results Theoretical saturation occurred after 13 interviews. The core category identified is A conflicted tribe under pressure, which is comprised of five interrelated subcategories: Belonging to the tribe; ‘It's a living hell’; Zero tolerance—‘it's a joke’; Conflicted priorities; Shifting the cultural norm. Conclusion This study provides valuable insight into the nursing social world and the organizational constraints in which nurses work. Although the inclination for an individual to exhibit negative behaviours cannot be dismissed, this behaviour can either be facilitated or impeded by organizational influences. Impact By considering the nurses' experiences of negative workplace behaviour and identifying the symptoms of a struggling system, nurse leaders can work to find and implement strategies to mitigate negative behaviour and create respectful workplace behaviours. Patient or Public Contribution This study involved registered nurse participants and there was no patient or public contribution. Clinical Trial Registration Study registration Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (Registration No. ACTRN12618002007213; December 14, 2018).
... Épistémologiquement, cette posture s'inscrit dans la perspective sociologique de l'interactionnisme symbolique (Carter & Fuller, 2015). Nous retenons les travaux de Stryker qui soutiennent l'idée que les significations dégagées dans l'interaction mènent à des comportements relativement stables. ...
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... Originating within broader identity theory , and flowing from the tenets of symbolic interactionism (Carter & Fuller, 2015), role identity theory explains that when an individual occupies a role within society, they construct an identity around the role through the enactment of its attendant attributes . Role identities can be personal (such as a parent) or professional (such as a physician or lawyer) and prescribe a set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavioral expectations that are espoused in social norms, law, and ethics . ...
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... In addition, "life events," personal experiences and changes in social environment could influence the decisions and actions of drug users throughout their life course (Carlsson, 2011;Moffitt, 1993). These factors and the way they modified the meanings associated by users to substances have crucial implications in explaining how nonmedical prescribed opioid users transitioned to heroin use (Carter & Fuller, 2015). ...
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Opioid use and misuse are understudied in Thailand despite evidence suggesting that a portion of young Thai male integrated drug users are initiating use of non-medical prescribed opioids with some transitioning to heroin. This study aims to capture and analyze the individual and social factors influencing these transitions. Twenty in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 in the Bangkok metropolitan area with young male opioid users who transitioned to heroin. Sixteen respondents initiated opioid through a Tramadol cocktail named “YaPro” and tended to transition to heroin use within 21 months. The interaction of specific social and individual factors such as joining recreational activities, curiosity or experimentation gradually modified the opioid-related meanings, attitude and practices of Thai users, who ultimately transition to heroin use. These results indicate that drug prevention programs in Thailand should encompass young opioid users in their intervention and further research need to focus on nonmedical use of prescription opioids in Thailand.
... "Me" adalah komponen objektif dan pasif, yang terutama didasarkan pada sikap kelompok sosial atau masyarakat (Wiley, 2021). Selain itu, Erving Goffman memperkenalkan dramaturgi, di mana individu-individu sebagai aktor sosial terlibat dalam pertunjukan (tindakan sosial) untuk menciptakan kesan (Lehn et al., 2021;Carter & Fuller, 2015). ...
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ABSTRAK Artikel ini mendiskusikan proses adaptasi pemuda dalam tatanan sosial baru yang diproduksi oleh pandemi, seperti protokol Covid-19 hingga konsekuensi-konsekuensi sosio-kultural lainnya. Interpretasi pemuda terhadap aturan pandemi, memaksimalkan peran dan status sosial mereka di tengah masyarakat melalui proses sosial yang menyejarah dapat memunculkan diskursus penting dalam konteks akselerasi terhadap budaya-budaya baru pandemi. Generasi muda yang identik dengan digital native di satu sisi, dan penggerak perubahan di sisi lain mempunyai cara sendiri dalam beradaptasi dan merespons budaya-budaya baru di tengah pandemi. Penelitian ini menggunakan pendekatan kualitatif dengan menggali data primer melalui wawancara terhadap mahasiswa-mahasiswa di Yogyakarta. Data primer ini kemudian diperkuat dengan data sekunder yang dikumpulkan melalui observasi dan media massa. Artikel ini menemukan tiga hal penting. Pertama, kesadaran menjaga kesehatan diri dan keluarga yang kemudian bermuara pada spirit kolektif, yaitu sehat bersama masyarakat. Kedua, akselerasi dan adaptasi terhadap dunia digital yang memberi ruang kepada pemuda untuk berkiprah di ranah sosial. Pandemi mempercepat dunia digital dan sekaligus memaksa masyarakat untuk dapat menggunakannya. Ketiga, ketegangan budaya terjadi karena proses adaptasi yang konstan terhadap aturan-aturan pandemi. Tiga penemuan ini dibingkai dalam proses sosial yang menjadi fokus utama untuk melihat peran aktor sekaligus struktur sosial di sekitarnya. ABSTRACT This article discusses youth adaptation to the pandemic social orders introduced by the Covid-19 protocol and other socio-cultural consequences. While maximizing social role and social status in society through durable processes, youth interpretation of the pandemic rules have created important discourses in the context of shaping new pandemic cultures. Having acknowledged as digital natives on the one hand, and agents of change, on the other hand, youths have their own way of adapting and challenging the new cultures of a pandemic. By using a qualitative approach, primary data were collected through interviews with undergraduate students in Yogyakarta and then supported by secondary data collected through observations, documents, and news. This article has found three important points. The first is an awareness of maintaining oneself health and family which then leads to a collective spirit, that is to build a healthy community. The second is an accelerative way to the digital world giving youth a flash opportunity to take part in the social sphere. The pandemic has been accelerating the digital platforms and at the same time has forced youths to be able to use them. The third is cultural tensions inevitably arising due to the constant process of adaptation to the pandemic rules. These three findings are staged in a social process to see the role of actors and the social structures in particular. PENDAHULUAN Setelah dua tahun lebih pandemi Covid-19 menghantam kehidupan global, tatanan sosial dan budaya baru pun tidak terelakkan telah mewarnai kehidupan sosial masyarakat dengan proses sosial dan budaya yang terjadi secara simultan dan kompleks (Pietrocola et al., 2020). Sadar atau tidak, pandemi telah memaksa masyarakat global beradaptasi dengan tatanan sosial baru secara cepat dan masif. Adaptasi sosial yang super-cepat tersebut harus didukung oleh proses pemaknaan perubahan sosial yang distingtif (Morgan, 2020), bahkan dengan pendekatan radikal (Davies,
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Symbolic interactionism is a theoretical framework with origins in sociology that addresses the manner in which individuals create relationships and a shared social world via language and symbolic gestures. Involving both theoretical propositions and methodological practices, social scientists use the “interactionist” framework to understand joint action and how individuals interpret and define their experiences. Focusing on social processes that occur in small groups and dyadic settings, scholars who work in the interactionist tradition have produced an extensive literature that helps us understand a variety of microlevel social phenomena and the nature of group life. Because of its efficacy in explaining the relationship between individuals and groups, symbolic interactionism is particularly useful for understanding family dynamics.
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Taylor and Leitz trace processes of collective identity construction and politicization among women suffering from postpartum psychiatric illness who have been convicted of infanticide. Joining a growing body of research suggesting that self‐help and consumer health movements can be a significant force for change in both the cultural and political arenas, Taylor and Lietz examine one such movement, a pen‐pal network of women incarcerated for committing infanticide. Taylor and Leitz show how a sense of collective identity fostered by the pen‐pal network triggered a profound emotional transformation in participants, allowing them to convert shame and loneliness into pride and solidarity, and encouraging their participation in efforts to change how the medical and legal system treat postpartum psychiatric illness.
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