SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AS DEFINED BY HERBERT BLUMER

Herbert Blumer, originator of the term "symbolic interactionism," had a profound effect on social theory and methodology. A respected critic and devotee of George Herbert Mead, Blumer expounded with fervour on the importance of meaning to the individual as an acting entity, the primacy of direct empirical observation as a methodology, and the centrality of the "definition of the situation" introduced by W. I. Thomas. Blumer’s thought was also heavily influenced by John Dewey, the noted Pragmatist. This discussion of Blumer’s thought will be preceded by a brief overview of both Dewey’s and Mead’s main ideas, from which Blumer’s were largely drawn. The overview of Blumer’s contributions will touch on the premises underlying Symbolic Interactionism, follow with an exploration of what Blumer called the "root images" of Symbolic Interactionism, and conclude with a few remarks about Blumer’s assertions regarding methodology as it relates to empirical science. Philosophy is the bedrock upon which any discipline is built. Blumer’s thought is shot through with the ideas of John Dewey. Dewey rejected the philosophical quest for certainty and what he called the "spectator theory" of knowledge -that being the idea that thinking refers to fixed things in nature (i.e., the notion that for each idea there is a corresponding thing in reality). Further, Dewey insisted that human beings are best understood in relation to their environment and supported the practical turn of philosophy. Of chief importance in understanding his influence on Herbert Blumer is Dewey’s stress on the dynamic interaction between Man -- as a biological organism - and the natural world. For Dewey, the goal of thought was an adjustment between Man and his environment. George Herbert Mead called his approach "social behaviourism." Drawing on Dewey and Charles Cooley, Mead stressed "the conscious mind and the self-awareness and self-regulation of social actors" (i.e., the individual who performs an action). Mead saw the Self as emerging from the social interaction of humans in which the individual takes on the role of the "other" and internalizes the attitudes he perceives in both real and imagined others. The interaction of an individual’s self-conception ("I") and the generalized, perceived view that others have of the individual ("Me") is central to Mead’s sociological viewpoint. Mead asserted that by continually "reflecting on ourselves as others see us we become competent in the production and display of social symbols." Mead also believed that, while human nature is part of evolution and nature, the "importance of language and symbolic communication as an aspect of this evolution is such as to free human action from natural determinism." Blumer described his discipline as follows: symbolic interactionism is a down-to-earth approach to the scientific study of human group life and human conduct. Its empirical world is the natural world of such group life and conduct. It lodges its problems in this natural world, conducts its studies in it, and derives its interpretations from such naturalistic studies. Symbolic Interactionism rests on three primary premises. First, that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings those things have for them, second that such meanings arise out of the interaction of the individual with others, and third, that an interpretive process is used by the person in each instance in which he must deal with things in his environment. It was Blumer’s perception that the first premise was largely ignored, or at least down-played, by his contemporaries. If mentioned at all, he asserted, meaning is relegated to the status of a causative factor or is treated as a "mere transmission link that can be ignored in favour of the initiating factors" by both sociologists and psychologists. Symbolic Interactionism, however, holds the view that the central role in human behaviour belongs to these very meanings which other viewpoints would dismiss as incidental. As to the second premise, Blumer identified two traditional methods for accounting for the derivation of meaning and highlights how they differ from the Interactionist approach. First, meaning is taken to be innate to the object considered (i.e., it inheres in the objective characteristics of the object). In this view, meaning is given and no process is involved in forming an understanding of it, one need only recognize what is already there. Second, meaning is taken to be the cumulative "psychical accretion" of perceptions carried by the perceiver for whom the object has meaning. "This psychical accretion is treated as being an expression of constituent elements of the person’s psyche, mind, or psychological organization." The constituents of the individual’s psychological makeup that go to form meaning, then, are all of the sensory and attitudinal data that the person brings to the instance of meaning formation with her. In marked contradistinction to these viewpoints, Social Interactionism holds that meaning arises out of the "process of interaction between people. The meaning of a thing for a person grows out of the ways in which

other persons act toward the person with regard to the thing," which is to say that the actions of others are instrumental in the formation of meaning for any given individual and in regard to any specific object. The third premise further distinguishes Symbolic Interactionism from other schools of thought, insofar as it is the actual process of interpretation that is primary to Blumer’s explication of the formation of meaning. The other points of view, he avers, view the uses of meaning as being simply the calling upon and application to specific situations of previously established meanings. Blumer insisted that the interpretive process and the context in which it is done are a vital element in the person’s use of meaning and formation thereof. This process has two distinct steps. First, the actor indicates to himself the things toward which he is acting; he has to point out to himself the things that have meaning. The making of such indications is an internalized social process in that the actor is interacting with himself. This interaction with himself is something other than an interplay of psychological elements; it is an instance of the person engaging in a process of communicating with himself. Second, by virtue of this process of communicating with himself, interpretation becomes a matter of handling meanings. The actor selects, checks, suspends, regroups, and transforms meanings in the light of the situation in which he is placed and the direction of his action. This being the case, interpretation is vastly more important than a simple application of previously integrated meanings, but is, rather, an active process of formulation, reconsideration, and revision. "Like other Pragmatists, Blumer has insisted that the meanings of objects are primarily a property of behaviour and depend only secondarily upon the intrinsic character of the objects themselves. Meanings, furthermore, are constructed and re-affirmed in social interaction; they are shaped largely by the actual and anticipated responses of others." Meanings, for Blumer, are a dynamic part of any action through this self-interactive process. Resting upon the three premises are a large body of basic ideas, what Blumer thought of as "root images.... These root images refer to and depict the nature of the following matters: human groups or societies, social interaction, objects, the human being as an actor, human action, and the interconnection of the lines of action." Taken in sum, these "images" constitute the foundation of the Social Interactionist view of human conduct and human society and form the skeleton around which Interactionist theory and interpretation is built. What follows is a brief description of each of these ideas, as explicated by Blumer himself. Human Groups Or Societies are defined as being composed of human beings engaged in all the varied actions which they perform as they move through life and encounter one another and the massive array of situations imposed on them. Action may be taken by an individual, collectively, on behalf of others, or as the representative for an individual or group of others. However, action remains the property of the individual and is carried out in light of the current situational context in which the individual carries out the action. This characterization of human society existing in action is the starting point from which social interactionism views human conduct. "A cardinal principle of symbolic interactionism is that any empirically oriented scheme of human society, however derived, must respect the fact that in the first and last instances human society consists of people engaging in action. To be empirically valid the scheme must be consistent with the nature of the social action of human beings." The term Social Interaction presupposes that group life consists of interaction between members of a group (i.e., society consists in the interaction of individual human beings). While other schools of sociological thought treat the actual interaction of individuals as a medium or conduit along which other causative factors are channeled to produce behaviour, it is in the interactions themselves, seen as they are as a process, that Blumer places primary importance in the formation of human behaviour and, as described above, the formation of the meanings that underlie behaviour. The actions of others must be constantly considered in the decision-making process of the individual; thus it is the interaction -- real or imagined -- with those others that is the first and most important determinant of the behaviour of the individual. Objects retain empirical reality outside of the process of social interaction but the significance of their relationship to human conduct is nonetheless a byproduct of interaction with others. Blumer devotes considerable energy to decrying ‘pure idealism’ and insists that, while reality is indeed comprised of the experiences of human beings, nevertheless, reality cannot be sought exclusively within the thoughts and images of human beings. The "empirical world can ‘talk back’ to our pictures of it or assertions about it -talk back in the sense of challenging and resisting, or not bending to, our images or conceptions of it. This resistance gives the empirical world an obdurate character that is the mark of reality." That said, Blumer distinguishes three classes of objects: 1) physical objects; 2) social objects; and 3) abstract objects. The environment in which a person conducts her life can consist only of the objects that have

acquired meaning for her. The nature of this environment, on the other hand, is comprised of the content of those meanings. So, two persons living in largely similar physical environs may have subjectively different ‘actual’ environments. Since a human being is an acting organism, therefore persons must be constituted such that they can interact with others, both on the non-symbolic level and in the sense of making indications as to their intended actions and interpreting the indications they perceive others as making. Blumer emphasizes the assertion, first made by G.H. Mead, that to do this the individual must possess a Self -- a recognizable object of one’s own actions. Just as is the case with other objects, it must be noted, "the ‘self-object’ emerges from the process of social interaction in which other people are defining a person to himself." Further, the possession of a Self enables the person to perform the all-important interaction with himself that Mead identified as the crux of the formation of social skills and which Blumer calls making indications to oneself -in fact, Blumer says, this process of making indications to the Self is the distinguishing characteristic of consciousness. The nature of human action follows from the ability to make indications to the Self. This facility allows the human being to engage the world as one who interprets it and forms decisions upon which to act from that interpretation rather than simply responding automatically to the environment bases on instinctually-given rules inherent in the organism’s makeup. "He has to cope with the situations in which he is called on to act, ascertaining the meaning of the actions of others and mapping out his own line of action in the light of this interpretation." The ‘objects’ confronted which must be taken into account, it should be noted, include not only physical objects, but the social and abstract objects that comprise the rest of the individual’s perceived reality, as well. The interlinkages of human actions are the building blocks of human group life. It is the process of corresponding these lines of individual action to those of others that best characterizes human society. The ability to do this allows for ‘joint actions’ which are consciously entered into and which can then be referred to without the necessity of segregating out the various individual actions that make them up or identifying the individuals who perform them. Thus, it is actually the articulation of lines of action to the Self, an ability that distinguished human action from that of other species, which gives rise to the collective actions that serve to distinguish human society. Blumer points out that in dealing with collectivities and with joint action one can easily be trapped in an erroneous position by failing to recognize that the joint action of the collectivity is an interlinkage of the separate acts of the participants. This failure leads one to overlook the fact that a joint action always undergoes a process of formation; even though it may well be a well-established and repetitive form of social action, each instance has to be formed anew. This distinction allows for Social Interaction, which concerns itself primarily with micro-level actions of individuals and small groups, to account for the macro-level phenomena which arise out of the actions of those individuals by re-asserting that all action begins in the interpretive process of the individual. "Empirical science," Blumer avers, "is an enterprise that seeks to develop images and conceptions that can successfully handle and accommodate the resistance offered by the empirical world under study." Blumer decries the notion that the empirical world has an im-mutable character the discovery of which is the purpose of empirical study. Rather, he asserts that each new scientific discovery reveals a new vision of reality which demands that previously held conceptions be completely revised. In Blumer’s judgment the proper picture of empirical science... is that of the collective quest for answers to questions directed to the resistant character of the given empirical world under study. One has to respect the obdurate character of that empirical world -- this is indeed the cardinal principle of empirical science. Empirical science pursues its quest by devising images of the empirical world under study and testing these images through exacting scrutiny of the empirical world. So, methodology, for Blumer, encompasses the entire scientific endeavour to understand the empirical world and not just subjectively important aspects thereof. Further, each and every aspect of that endeavour must conform to "obdurate" reality, which implies that methods are subject to testing by reality and subsistent upon it. Also, it is the empirical world that maintains final arbitrary authority in regard to the veracity of any account of it, not any model upon which a scientific inquiry is based.

Blumer recounts these fundamental principles of the scientific method to support his assertion that only Social Interaction meets the test of truly scientific procedure, as compared to other schools of sociological thought which rely on more indirect methods of observation. That the adherents of those schools believe that they are not only observing the empirical world and in what they believe to be the only proper fashion (i.e., in conformity with previously established scientific procedure), is not lost on Blumer. He avers, however, that only social interaction’s methodology yields a true, direct observation. Blumer defines the social world as "the actual group life of human beings" and asserts that very few research scientists will have much direct, firsthand knowledge of the social worlds they choose to study and that, therefore, any conception the researcher forms of that world prior to conducting a study of it will necessarily be limited and that stereotypical images will automatically enter into any model subsequently used as the basis of that study. This being the case, only the penetrating and familiarity-breeding methods of deep personal immersion in the world under study can yield data which is not biased by the (inherently faulty) model used to interpret it. Thus, Blumer stresses the vital importance of involved exploratory study of the micro-level phenomena that comprise any social world to be studied. Symbolic interactionism recognizes that the genuine mark of an empirical science is to respect the nature of its empirical world -- to fit its problems, its guiding procedures of inquiry, its techniques of study, its concepts, and its theories to that world. It believes that this determination of problems, concepts, research techniques, and theoretical schemes should be done by direct examination of the actual empirical social world rather than by working with a simulation of that world derived from a few scattered observations of it, or with a picture of that world fashioned in advance to meet the dictates of some scheme of ‘scientific’ procedure, or with a picture of the world built up from partial or untested accounts of that world. This last subject best displays one of the principal characteristics of Blumer’s writing: its polemicism. There is an overarching tendency in Blumer’s accounts of his theories to attack his detractors in the midst of explaining his own point of view. No attention is given in his discussion of the faults of other methods of inquiry to the danger that direct, interpersonal observation may also skew the data collected by the presence of the researcher, for instance, but each time he seeks to describe an aspect of Social Interactionism, he includes an assertion as to why that viewpoint is superior to one not in agreement with it. His cautions as to the dangers of forming theoretical models from incomplete data, deserve careful consideration and serve to point to one of the chief difficulties of engaging in social research. Social Interactionism, then, comprises a micro-level framework for studying social phenomenon not afforded by other majour schools of sociological thought. Blumer places his principal emphasis on the process of interaction in the formation of meanings to the individual. He proceeds to place those meanings in the central role in explaining and accounting for human behaviour. Resting on this theoretical foundation are several "root images" of the nature of human social action and their relationship to the process of meaning formation. Out of these "images" derives a natural and useful research methodology -- which, it must be noted, is not entirely free of potential to distort the data collected by means of it -- that involves personal immersion into the world the researcher wishes to study in order to assure that the most direct possible observation of that world can be made. Symbolic interactionism From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Symbolic interactionism is a major sociological perspective that places emphasis on micro-scale social interaction, which is particularly important in subfields such as urban sociology and social psychology. Symbolic interactionism is derived from American pragmatism, especially the work of George Herbert Mead and Charles Cooley. Herbert Blumer, a student and interpreter of Mead, coined the term 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. Sociologists working in this tradition have researched a wide range of topics using a variety of research methods. However, the majority of interactionist research uses qualitative research methods, like participant observation, to study aspects of (1) social interaction and/or (2) individuals' selves. Sociological areas that have been particularly influenced

by symbolic interactionism include the sociology of emotions, deviance/criminology, collective behavior/social movements, and the sociology of sex. Interactionist concepts that have gained widespread usage include definition of the situation, emotion work, impression management, looking glass self, and total institution. Basic premises and approach Herbert Blumer (1969), who coined the term "symbolic interactionism," set out three basic premises of the perspective: 1. 2. 3. "Human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things." "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society." "These meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters."

Blumer, following Mead, claimed that people interact with each other by interpret[ing] or 'defin[ing]' each other's actions instead of merely reacting to each other's actions. Their 'response' is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols and signification, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another's actions (Blumer 1962). Blumer contrasted this process, which he called "symbolic interaction," with behaviorist explanations of human behavior, which don't allow for interpretation between stimulus and response. Symbolic interactionist researchers investigate how people create meaning during social interaction, how they present and construct the self (or "identity"), and how they define situations of co-presence with others. One of the perspective's central ideas is that people act as they do because of how they define situations. Erving Goffman, although he claimed not to have been a symbolic interactionist, is recognized as one of the major contributors to the perspective. Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) is the scholarly association for symbolic interactionists. SSSI holds a conference in conjunction with the meeting of the American Sociological Association in August and sponsors the Couch-Stone Symposium each spring.[1] It also sponsors the journal Symbolic Interaction.[2] Critique Although symbolic interactionist concepts have gained widespread use among sociologists, the perspective has been criticized, particularly during the 1970s in the U.S. when quantitative approaches to sociology were dominant. Perhaps the best known of these is by Alvin Gouldner.[3] In addition to methodological criticisms, critics of symbolic interactionism have charged that it is unable to deal with social structure (a fundamental sociological concern) and macrosociological issues. A number of symbolic interactionists have addressed these topics, one of the best known being Negotiated Order Theory.[4]. But their work has not gained as much recognition or influence as the work of those focusing on the interactional level. Herbert Blumer's Symbolic Interactionism Lindsey D. Nelson Comm 3210: Human Communication Theory University of Colorado at Boulder Spring 1998 THE THEORY

Symbolic Interactionism as thought of by Herbert Blumer, is the process of interaction in the formation of meanings for individuals. Blumer was a devotee of George H. Mead, and was influenced by John Dewey. Dewey insisted that human beings are best understood in relation to their environment (Society for More Creative Speech, 1996). With this as his inspiration, Herbert Blumer outlined Symbolic Interactionism, a study of human group life and conduct. Blumer came up with three core principles to his theory. They are meaning, language, and thought. These core principles lead to conclusions about the creation of a person's self and socialization into a larger community (Griffin, 1997) The first core principle of meaning states that humans act toward people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people or things. Symbolic Interactionism holds the principal of meaning as central in human behavior. The second core principle is language. Language gives humans a means by which to negotiate meaning through symbols. Mead's influence on Blumer becomes apparent here because Mead believed that naming assigned meaning, thus naming was the basis for human society and the extent of knowledge. It is by engaging in speech acts with others, symbolic interaction, that humans come to identify meaning, or naming, and develop discourse. The third core principle is that of thought. Thought modifies each individual's interpretation of symbols. Thought, based-on language, is a mental conversation or dialogue that requires role taking, or imagining different points of view. THE CASE Last week, I received an exciting e-mail from an old flame named Jeremy. Jeremy and I have been getting to know each other again through the wonderful world of cyberspace. I like e-mall because it doesn't have the nervous element that phone calls do. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the personal touch of phone calls either. The biggest downfall of email is that non-verbal cues are impossible to detect, because of the simple fact that e-mail is not verbal. It is very easy for misunderstanding to arise. Well, Jeremy's e-mail to me on Thursday said he was coming to Boulder the next day, and he was wondering if I wanted "to go out?" I accepted his offer "to go out." With the help of my friends, I picked out the perfect outfit for my date with Jeremy. The girls and I all assumed Jeremy and I would do dinner and a movie because that is pretty much standard date practice. The next night, Jeremy picked me up "to go out" to the bars with him and three of his buddies. I got very angry and he couldn't figure out why. After all, I told him we would "go out." APPLICATION OF THEORY TO CASE I can explain the problem between Jeremy and myself using the lens of the three core principles of Symbolic Interactionism as outlined by Herbert Blumer. The first miscommunication that Jeremy and I had falls under the principal of meaning. Jeremy and I acted differently toward one another because we had different meanings of one another. Last year, Jeremy and I broke up under the heading "we're just friends." Therefore, Jeremy assigns "friend" as the meaning for me. For myself, however, when Jeremy and I started talking again, I reevaluated my meaning for him as "potential boyfriend." Jeremy was treating me like a friend, and I was treating him like a boyfriend because we act toward people based on the meanings we assign to them. Our second miscommunication falls under the principle of language. The symbols "do you want to go out" are very ambiguous, especially without the luxury of non-verbal cues. After engaging in symbolic interaction with my group of friends, I decided that "going out" means a romantic evening of dinner and a movie. My girl friends asked where the two of us were going, what I was going to wear to impress him, would we kiss on the first date - even though it really wasn't our FIRST date, if the two of us were going to start dating again, and other things like that. Through my interaction with them, the language "going out" took on a specific meaning. Apparently for Jeremy, the language "going out" took on the specific meaning of hitting the bars for a night on the town. To put it another way, if the extent of knowledge is naming, I name a typical date as "going out," while Jeremy names being at the bars with friends "going out." Because we have two different situations with the same name, we fell upon a misunderstanding. Our third miscommunication falls under the principal of thought. In my internal dialogue, the symbols "do you want to go out" were interpreted through my thought process based on my naming system. I read his e-mall, talked to my friends, and assigned meaning to the language through symbolic interaction. Based on that meaning from language, I

had an internal dialogue, and ended up coming to the conclusion that Jeremy and I were going to spend some romantic time alone together. Jeremy's thought process also modified his interpretation of the language. Jeremy assigned the name of "just a friend" to me. That name was his meaning. He acted toward me based on that meaning. Through his internal dialogue, he used the language "going out" to be interpreted as time spent among friends. While we ended up have a great time together, just the five of us, the focal point of the problem between Jeremy and myself is that each of us had different meanings with the same name which can account for our behavior. CRITIQUE The theory of Symbolic Interactionism is strong in that it provides a basis to understand the establishment of meaning. As I understand it, Symbolic Interactionism falls under the category of a Humanistic theory. It has creative meaning interaction gives humans meaning. It has free will - every human has meanings which can change at any time. It has emancipation - individuals are free to find their own meaning. It has rules for interpretation meaning, language, and thought. And it uses a ethnography to find meaning. Symbolic Interactionism also meets the five humanistic standards that make a good theory. There is a new understanding of the people where we get meaning. There is a clarification of values. Meaning comes from interaction, so interaction is important to human society. There is aesthetic appeal - the theory is in three, easy-to-understand parts. There is a community of agreement - Blumer's ideas are adopted by people in the academic community. And there is a reform of society - because meaning comes from interaction, interaction must not be taken for granted. Although Symbolic Interactionism is a good theory by the five humanistic standards, there is a critique of the whole basis for it. While Blumer insists that the interpretive process and the context in which it is done are a vital element in the person's use of meaning and formation thereof, others view the use of meaning as simply the calling upon and application to specific situations of previously held meanings (Society for More Creative Speech, 1996). That is, a social interactionist believes that meaning arises out of the interaction between people, while a contradicting point of view a asserts that meaning is already established in a person's psychological make-up. CONCLUSION While it is debatable if Symbolic Interactionism is a good theory, or not, I find it effective in evaluating human interaction. My conflict with Jeremy is the perfect example of how different meanings can cause communication problems. While this is a fairly insignificant example, it is easy to see how larger problems can arise if the lines of communication are not open, and assumptions are made. BIBLIOGROPHY Griffin, E. (1997). A First Look at Communication Theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies. The Society for More Creative Speech. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism as Defined by Herbert Blumer. http://www.thepoint.net/-usul/text/blumer.html Herbert Blumer and Symbolic Interactionism This is an excerpt from the paper... Herbert Blumer and Symbolic Interactionism In defining his theory of symbolic interaction, Herbert Blumer states that the possession of a self enables a person to interact with himself while he is interacting with others. This self-interaction enables a participant in the social act to act in an unexpected or unique way (Blumer, 1981, p. 152). Such a perspective differs from others that view society as a place of structure and inherent, inevitable conflict by creating the possibility that human beings can objectively view their conduct and adjust it accordingly. Blumer's perspective offers an optimistic treatment of multicultural issues in the United States and provides the foundation for developing a curricula and school policy that would address the problems of interpersonal interaction between multicultural students and teachers.

Generally, problematic social situations or situations that demand new interpretations are the foci of analysis for symbolic interactionism (Wallace & Wolf, 1995, p. 206). Herbert Blumer argues the more unstructured the situation, the more likely it is symbolic interactionist analysis is indispensable to its understanding (Wallace & Wolf, 1995, p. 207). Unfortunately, a strong argument can be made that the subordination of non-European minority groups in the United States is a very structured occurrence, whereby the tradition and history of the nation has served to maintain that structure. However, the increasing influx of ... lf, 1995, p. 206). Blumer argues the fitting together of the lines of conduct that define such life is done through the dual process of definition and interpretation (Blumer, 1969, p. 66). He argues this process sustains established patterns of joint conduct and opens them to transformation. Patterns of group life exist and persist through the continued use of the same schemes of interpretation, which are maintained through their continued confirmation by the defining acts of others (Blumer, 1969, p. 67). Change in the process of group life occurs when its established patterns are undermined or disrupted by changed definitions from others because through the process of self-indication each actor notes and adjusts to the changed definitions. This aspect of Blumer's theory is significant to the attitudes toward a multicultural curriculum because such a curriculum requires adjusted interpretations and definitions of other people as individuals as well as a member of any given group. Blumer explains that in the process of self-indication, individuals point out certain stimuli to themselves and then interpret the appearance of the stimuli to themselves (Wallace & Wolf, 1995, p. 199). The stereotypes and misinformed definitions G.H MEAD: Symbolic Interactionism Symbolic interactionism is a social psychological theory developed from the work of Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead in the early part of the twentieth century (the actual name of the theory comes from Herbert Blumer, one of Mead's students). According to this theory, people inhabit a world that is in large part socially constructed. In particular, the meaning of objects, events, and behaviors comes from the interpretation people give them, and interpretations vary from one group to another. Cooley, in his theory of a "looking glass self," argued that the way we think about ourselves is particularly apt to be a reflection of other people's appraisals (or more accurately, our imagining of other people's appraisals) and that our self-concepts are built up in the intimate groups that he called "primary groups." Mead emphasized that human beings do not react directly to events; they act based on their interpretation of the meaning of events. The words we use to describe our behavior and the behavior of others are particularly important, according to this theory. The new prostitute learns to denigrate the "square" world and admire people whose lifestyle reflects "the racket life." (Heyl)Another example is the rapist who insists that some women (hitch hikers for example) cannot be considered victims, because they are "asking for it." (Scully and Marollis). Symbolic interactionists emphasize that deviants, like people who are more conformist, live in a world that is socially constructed. Certain identities are available and others not available; some behaviors get you prestige and respect while others are deprecated or punished, and the behaviors that are approved or punished may change dramatically over time. I see differential association theory, neutralization theory, and labeling theory as subtheories that share many of the assumptions of symbolic interactionism.

Chapter Four: Symbolic Interactionism (George Herbert Mead) “Humans act toward people, things, and events on the basis of the meanings they assign to them. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences. Without language there would be no thought, no sense of self, or no socializing presence of society within the individual.” (Griffin, p.A-13) Mind, Self, and Society emphasizes core principles of meaning, language, and thought Meaning: The construction of social reality Humans act toward others or things based on meanings they assign to them. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences. Language: The source of meaning

Meanings arise out of social interaction people have with each other. Meaning is not inherent in objects. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language. Symbolic naming is the basis for society Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret the world Thought: The process of taking the role of the other An individual’s interpretation of symbols is modified by his/her own thought process Minding – thinking as an inner conversation Humans are hardwired for thought. Language is the software that activates the mind. The Self: Reflections in a looking glass Self is defined thgough interconnection of meaning, language, and thought. Looking-glass self – mental image created through introspection (taking role of the other) Self is ongoing process combining the “I” and the “me.” Community: The socializing effect of others’ expectations Generalized other is the sum total of responses and expectations from people around us. A Sampler of Applied Interactionism Creating reality Meaningful research Generalized other Naming Self-fulfilling prophecy Symbol manipulation Critique: A theory too grand? Great breadth, but hard to summarize and lacks clarity Does Mead overstate his case (especially in distinguishing humans from other animals)? Great influence on later humanistic/interpretive theories. SYMBOLIC INTERACTION PAGE 2 Human organisms must learn to cooperate with each other in group contexts in order to survive, this survival and adjustment is retained within human society. The MIND according to Mead • • • • • • • Uses symbols to designate objects Seeks alternatives in actions Inhibits inappropriate actions and selects proper courses of action (imaginative rehearsal) The mind is a process, not a structure Humans through processes develop gestures of communication with common meanings, and assist in communication of desires and wanted and courses of action We perceive and interpret gestures with other humans with whom we must cooperate for survival We are also able to put ourselves in another’s place and “take the role of the other”

The SELF according to Mead • • • Humans can represent themselves as an object as a basis for self assessment and evaluation We derive an image of ourselves as an object, and this is how we develop our self concept We role take and via role taking we can assume perspectives of others, the first stage is play, second is game where we engage in organized activity, learn cooperation, and rules, finally “take the role of the generalized other or community of attitudes”

SOCIETY according to Mead • Society and institutions represent the organized and patterned interactions among diverse individuals, this comes from the capacity of our mind where we can take roles of others and rehearse alternative lines of activity while coordinating their activities. Society is dependent upon the capacities of the self, via evaluating oneself. Society and its institutions are maintained, yet society is constantly in flux and filled with changes. Mead did not approve of rigid and oppressive patterns of social organization, he viewed society as a constructed phenomenon that arises out of the adjustive interactions among individuals. Society can be altered or

reconstructed…..Mead also realized that change is frequently unpredictable. He developed, from William James the concepts of the I and me: • The I is the part of the self that is impulsive, spontaneous, not always predicated SYMBOLIC INTERACTION Page 3 • The me is accumulated experiences which are only known by me and actually transpired and the consequences that are “known” via this experience

Mead’s synthesis conceptually become role theory……….the idea of “playing a role, and roles are linked to structural positions in society, we are confined to playing roles within the confines of the positions of social structure….and people play multiple roles in society…… “Thinking is an active process as one develops a formative consciousness” Herbert Blumer and Manford Kuhn Herbert Blumer, studied under Mead, took over at Un. Of Chicago after Mead died. Blumer and Kuhn agree on the following: • Symbolic interaction is a distinctive theoretical perspective • Humans create and use symbols • Symbols help us communicate via voice, language, and body language • People can communicate, interact, and read each other via taking the role of the other and by anticipating the responses of others • Mind, self, society are intimately connected to one another • Humans “define the situation (WI Thomas) via naming categorizing and orienting themselves to objects including seeing themselves as objects, and the ability to derive a self image Disagreements: BLUMER: Blumer emphasized that humans can view themselves as objects and insert any object into an interaction situation – humans are active in the creation of their own world to which they respond. They can only understand via their experience and their interpretation of social organization and there is always room for spontaneity in every situation.

Symbolic Interactionism George Herbert Mead was a social psychologist and also taught at the University of Chicago where he was a professor of philosophy. One of his beliefs was that "the true test of any theory is whether or not is useful in solving complex social problems." (Griffin, 1997) One theory that he felt did this was his symbolic interactionism theory. During his time at the University of Chicago, his students took notes and decided to put together a book of what they had learned from Mead, Mind, Self, and Society. Mead had never put a term to his study of human interaction, although after his death it was finally identified as "Symbolic Interactionism", the name awarded by his friend Herbert Blumer. I have read parts of the book Mind, Self, and Society and found more in depth what George Mead had discovered. There are three basic principles that involved with symbolic interactionism. Meaning Language Thought I will go into these three principles in more detail using information from the two books A First Look at Communication Theory, and Mind, Self, and Society.

MEANING

"Meaning- making is a community project." (Wagner) Meaning is something that has to be assigned. Who assigns meaning? Who other than the people who are communicating it, humans. I feel that this is one thing that leads to confusion between two individuals. I know from my personal experience through talking with others, I would say one thing meaning it one way and they would take it in a totally different way. I all depends on how each individual assigns meaning. For example, I would give one of my guy friends a compliment by asking them if they had lost weight, and they would get upset. I had meant that they looked as if they were toning up, but to them, since they had been working out and trying to gain body mass, this means that they are not accomplishing their goal. It is just the different meaning that each one of us had assigned to that. It is all in how s people interpret things. In Mind, Self and Society, it states that "Meaning arises and lies within the field of relation between the gesture of a given human organism and the subsequent behavior of this organism as indicated to another human organism by that gesture. Meaning is implicit -if not always explicit- in the relationship among the various phases of the social act to which it refers, and out of which it develops." So I feel that this shows the reason why people understand the meaning or don't. It is all how their meaning affects the interpretation of what is being said. This also goes along with language. Blumer believes that "Meaning is negotiated through the use of language." (Griffen, 1997)

LANGUAGE

"Language is a process of indicating certain stimuli and changing the response to then in the system of behavior." (Blumer, 1934) We, as human beings assign symbols, or language to communicate. "Mead believed that symbolic naming is the basis for human society." (Griffen, 1997) Human beings understand each other through the communication of symbols or in other words, language. I feel that this can also be a cause of miscommunication. Mead also felt that this is where humans make assumptions about what has been said. I know that there have been many instances where I have assumed that when someone had told me something, that the way I interpreted it was what they had meant, and have been WRONG!! Especially in the English language where so many word can have so many different meanings. As said Mind, Self, and Society, "There is a certain range possible within the gesture as to what is to serve as the symbol." So there can be many different meanings assigned to a symbol. "Communication gives to us those elements of response which can be held in the mental field. We do not carry them out, but they are there constituting the meanings of these objects which we indicate."

THOUGHT

"An individual's interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process." Everyone reflects on what they have heard and thinks about what they are going to say next based on how they interpret what has been said to them. I feel that this is involved with every interaction that one has with another person. The term assigned to this definition is minding. Mead believes that "we naturally talk to ourselves in order to sort out the meaning of a difficult situation." (Griffen, 1997) "The essence of the self, as we have said, is cognitive: it lies in the internalized conversation of gestures which constitutes thinking, or in terms of which thought or reflection proceeds. And hence the origin and foundations of the self, like those of thinking are social." (Blumer, 1943) This is another good definition that shows the process of thinking , just as vital to the communication process as language and meaning.

Mead, George Herbert From New World Encyclopedia Jump to: navigation, search Previous (George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon) Next (George III of the United Kingdom)

George Herbert Mead (February 27, 1863 - April 26, 1931) was an American philosopher, sociologist and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatists. He is regarded as one of the founders of social psychology, developing what was later called the "Symbolic Interactionist" approach. Mead studied the aspects of human beings that make us unique, recognizing that our use of symbolism allows us to reflect on our experience and communicate those reflections to others, that we develop our sense of self through interaction with others, and that our uniquely human free will makes it impossible to fully predict human behavior. Mead is considered a major American philosopher by virtue of being, along with Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, one of the founders of pragmatism. He also made significant contributions to the philosophies of nature, science, and history, and to process philosophy. Biography George Herbert Mead was born in 1863 in South Hadley, Massachusetts. His father, Hiram Mead, was a Congregational minister. In 1870, the Meads moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where Reverend Hiram Mead became professor of homiletics at Oberlin Theological Seminary. As a child, George was described as a “cautious, mild-mannered, kindhearted, rather quiet boy” (Miller in Schellenberg 1978, 38). George entered Oberlin College in 1879 at the age of 16. There, he and his friend, Henry Northrup Castle, became enthusiastic students of literature, poetry, and history, and staunch opponents of supernaturalism. He experienced a sense of liberation from his early theological training. However, this was a relatively mild rebellion, and it created no stormy scenes with his parents. His father died in 1881, and his mother then took up teaching, initially at Oberlin College and later becoming president at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “There were no strained relations between the proud and dignified mother and her quiet son, though they avoided sensitive philosophical issues. George once said that he spent his second twenty years unlearning what he had been taught in his first twenty.” (Schellenberg 1978, 38-39) After failing as a grade school teacher (at which he lasted four months) and working on a railroad surveying crew, Mead went to Harvard, where he met William James, one of the founders of American pragmatism, and took classes from Josiah Royce. The latter exposed him to Hegelian idealism, which deeply influenced Mead. After a year at Harvard, Mead went to Germany, initially to the University of Leipzig, where he became strongly interested in Darwinism and studied with Wilhelm Wundt, founder of Experimental psychology, and G. Stanley Hall. On Hall's recommendation, Mead transferred to the University of Berlin in the spring of 1889, where he concentrated on the study of physiological psychology. During this time, Mead's friend, Henry Northrup Castle, was living in Leipzig with his sister, Helen. She and George were married in 1891. Shortly thereafter, Mead accepted an offer to teach in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. Mead underwent two important influences at Michigan: John Dewey, the Chairman of the Department, and Charles Horton Cooley, a young Ph.D. candidate. Dewey was one of the founders of pragmatism, and Cooley would become, along with Mead, one of the co-founders of the social psychological perspective, later called symbolic interactionism.

Three years later, in 1894, Dewey was appointed chair of the philosophy department at the newly created University of Chicago, and he brought Mead with him to that department. Mead was 31 years old at the time, and he stayed at the University of Chicago until his death in 1931. While Mead never joined the sociology department at the University of Chicago, his legacy is perhaps more prominent in that field than it is in philosophy. The “Meadian” tradition in sociology represents the interpretive, qualitative, and anti-positivist approach, which some sociologists favor, as opposed to the quantitative and statistical survey research, which emulates the physical sciences and has dominated the field. It is probably not a coincidence that much of the qualitative and ethnographic tradition in Sociology can be traced to the so-called "Chicago School." Mead published relatively little in his lifetime. When he died at the age of 68, he had not published a single book. His greatest impact was upon his students in his lectures. His major and best-known work is the four-volume Mind, Self and Society, published posthumously by his students and edited by Charles W. Morris (1934). This work contains a majority of Mead’s unpublished manuscripts and stenographic lecture notes. Theories and Ideas Mead resolved to base his “philosophy upon scientific foundations that would not take basic entities—such as soul or mind—for granted” (Schellenberg 1978, 41). His central concern was to demonstrate the fundamentally social nature of human beings, and he sought to explain the emergence of the human self from the social process, a process which is largely symbolic, i.e. linguistic. Thus, whereas conventional thinking posits the logical primacy of the individual over society, and assumes that the individual is the building block of society, Mead reversed this, arguing that society precedes the individual. A second conventional assumption which Mead reversed—revealing Darwin’s influence—is the notion that structure precedes function. To the contrary, according to Mead, birds do not fly because they have wings, but they develop wings as a consequence of attempting to fly. Thirdly, as a pragmatist, Mead reversed the classical causal analysis of (social) phenomena. Instead of emphasizing the importance of the prior causes of phenomena, Mead stressed the importance of consequences. Thus, Mead’s social philosophy is processual rather than static, and it leads to the only branch of modern social science which is relatively non-deterministic, because it is not necessarily concerned with the discovery of independent variables—the branch that became known as symbolic interactionism. This may be the only school of thought in the social sciences which includes human free will in its analysis, and does not limit the domain of science to the study of Kant’s phenomenal world but also dares to address Kant’s noumena. The Mind To Mead, the mind is a process, not an entity. He grounded human perception in an "action-nexus" (Joas 1985, 148), ingraining the individual in a "manipulatory phase of the act" as the fundamental “means of living” (Mead 1982, 120). In this manipulatory sphere, “the individual abides with the physical objects” of everyday life (Mead 1938, 267). Thus, the mind, for Mead, is the activity of thinking. “It is the process of talking over a problematic situation with one’s self, just as one might talk with another, that is exactly what we term ‘mental,’ and it goes on within the organism” (Charon 2004, 101). Above all, mind cannot develop outside of the symbolic, social process: "the individual mind can exist only in relation to other minds with shared meanings" (Mead 1982, 5). The Self, the I and the Me Mead, the social psychologist, argued the antipositivistic view that the individual is a product of society, the "self" arising out of social experience as an object of socially symbolic gestures and interactions. Rooted intellectually in Hegelian dialectics, theories of action, and an amended "anti-Watsonian" social behaviorism, Mead’s self was a self of practical and pragmatic intentions. According to Mead, a self is "that which can be object to itself," (Mead 1964, 204), or that "which is reflexive, i.e. which can be both subject and object." (201). The self, then, represents reflexive experience, simultaneous organic and mental activity. Only humans are capable of this. Only humans have, and are, selves. Lower animals have feelings such as pleasure and pain, but these belong to the organism, not to the self, for the feelings have no symbolic meaning.

Following William James, Mead found it convenient to express the dual and reflexive nature of the self through the concepts of the "I" and the "me." "The self is essentially a social process going on with these two distinguishable phases." (Mead 1964, 233). In other words, the "I" is the subjective and active phase of the self, and the "me" is the objective and passive phase. Mead also rooted the self’s "perception and meaning" deeply and sociologically in "a common praxis of subjects" (Joas 1985, 166) found specifically in social encounters. Understood as a combination of the "I" and the "me," Mead’s self proved to be noticeably entwined within a sociological existence: For Mead, existence in this community comes before individual consciousness. Thus, just as Mead's theory of knowledge and value is a philosophy of the act from the standpoint of the experiencing individual in interaction with the physical environment, his view of the self is of that self emerging through social acts involving interaction with other individuals. Socialization and Symbolic Interaction The social process that produces the self is called socialization. The sine qua non for socialization is symbolic thought, or language. Language consists of significant gestures or symbols, and it is an inherently social phenomenon, since a gesture is only significant if it evokes the same response in oneself as it is intended to elicit in another. Such meaningful communication occurs through role-taking. By taking the role of the other, Mead meant putting oneself in the place of another individual in such a manner that one arouses the same response in both. Only symbolic interaction is truly social in the sense that it requires role-taking. The “social” organization of ants and bees, while complex and sophisticated, is based on instinct, not role-taking. Mead distinguished several phases of socialization, notably the "play phase" and the "game phase." The former stage occurs when the young child begins to take the role of individual significant others. For the game stage, which is a later developmental stage, Mead used baseball as a metaphor: In order to successfully participate in a game of baseball, the individual must take the role of the generalized other, i.e. the entire social structure and its rules. And so it is with participating in society. Mead and Pragmatism Mead was, along with his colleagues and fellow graduate students William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey, one of the founders of pragmatism. To the pragmatist, knowledge is judged by how useful it is. Action is judged by its consequences. Objects are defined according to the use they have for us. Situations are defined, and the meaning of objects is determined by how humans respond to them, in a social context. Human beings interpret their environment, and the stimuli that impinge upon them, before they respond, and those interpretations are part of the human environment. Because the human environment is an interpreted environment, it is therefore fundamentally different from that of all other organisms. Mead and Social Behaviorism Mead was also influenced by John B. Watson, the founder of American behaviorism. However, Mead’s Behaviorism differed a great deal from Watson’s. Whereas Watsonian behaviorism was strictly concerned with externally observable physical behavior, Mead’s social behaviorism also included the study of action that is internal to the individual and that cannot be seen directly, notably action which we might call thinking. Unlike Watson, Mead felt that social science must also study what things mean to people and how humans experience events. Legacy Mead is considered a major American philosopher by virtue of being, along with Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, one of the founders of pragmatism. His theory of how the mind and self emerge from the social process of communication by signs laid the foundation for the Symbolic Interactionist school of sociology and social psychology. He also made significant contributions to the philosophies of nature, science, and history, and to process philosophy. He is a classic example of a social theorist whose work does not fit easily within conventional disciplinary boundaries. Mead’s most tangible legacy is the Symbolic Interactionist School of sociological social psychology. The name for this school was coined by Herbert Blumer, a sociologist who studied at the University of Chicago, took over the Mead's lecturing responsibilities, and went on to chair the Department of Sociology at the University of California Berkeley. He may be said to be the heir to George Herbert Mead.

During the second half of the twentieth century, two distinct branches of symbolic interactionism arose: the Chicago school under Herbert Blumer and the Iowa school under Manford Kuhn. The Chicago school carried forward the interpretive, qualitative Meadian tradition, whereas the Iowa school opted for a more positivistic approach. Other major contributors to symbolic interactionism during the last part of the twentieth century include Norman Denzin and Sheldon Stryker. Erving Goffman’s so-called “dramaturgical sociology” is also highly influenced by Mead. From the 1960s onwards, Goffman launched an approach that viewed all human social life as staged behavior. Ultimately, the importance and uniqueness of Meadian social psychology is that it represents an interpretive, qualitative and non-deterministic alternative to positivist social science. It has an affinity with Max Weber’s verstehende sociology, which similarly stresses the importance of understanding the subjective meaning of experience, rather than objectifying the other. The Meadian perspective can be termed humanistic, in that it focuses on human uniqueness, rather than on our similarities with other species. Our ability to symbolize frees us from our environment and from our past. While much of human behavior is habitual, there always remains an element of unpredictability and freedom, which Mead conceptualized as the “I" phase of the self. The lesson that Mead teaches is that, in the end, no social theorist will ever be able to fully predict human behavior. In his lifetime, Mead published about 100 scholarly articles, reviews, and incidental pieces. At the moment of death, he was correcting the galleys to what would have been his first book, Essays in Social Psychology, finally published in 2001. His students and colleagues, especially Charles W. Morris, subsequently put together five books from his unpublished manuscripts and from stenographic records of his lectures.