Sociology: Sociology and Symbolic Interactionism Essay

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Sociology
Mike Minz

Symbolic Interactionism’s history was originated with two key theorists, George Herman Mead and Charles Horton Cooley. George Mead’s approach to the theory of Symbolic Interactionism was so powerful that he was regarded by other theorists as the founder of that tradition. Mead was a teacher in the Philosophy department, but still was recognized by sociologists as the man who taught a generation everything they know about this theory. After George Mead passed away, his students pulled together his notes and conversations they’ve had with Mead and put it into a book called “Mind, Self and Society”. “Herbert Blumer, who studied with Mead at the University of Chicago, is responsible for coining the term, "symbolic interactionism," as well as for formulating the most prominent version of the theory” (Blumer, 1969). George Mead was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1863. Growing up, Mead enrolled into Harvard University where he studied Philosophy and Psychology. “At Harvard, Mead studied with Josiah Royce, a major influence upon his thought, and William James, whose children he tutored. In 1888, Mead left Harvard after receiving only a B.A. and moved to Leipzig, Germany to study with psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, from whom he learned the concept of "the gesture," a concept central to his later work” (Baldwin, 2009). Mead was a firm believer that science could be used to deal with social problems and it had plenty to do with him conducting further research later in his life. Mead wrote constantly and published numerous articles and book reviews in the subjects of philosophy and psychology. In his lifetime though, Mead did not publish any books. After his death, four volumes of books that were published by his students were comprised of his lectures, notes, numerous unpublished papers, and conversations with his students. 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 is 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 (Nelson, 1998). Basically Symbolic interaction theory analyzes things in society by addressing the subjective meanings that a person imposes on objects, events, and behaviors. Subjective meanings are given primacy because it is believe that people behave based on what they believe and not just on what is objectively true. Society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behavior and it is these interpretations that form the social bond (Crossman, 2011). The points that are most interesting in regards to Symbolic Interactionism are put into very complex terms. To put simpler, Symbolic Interactionism is focused on looking at one’s self from the eyes of another person. The way one communicates upon the interactions. One’s ability to interact gets more difficult as humans grow, since the person who is in the looking glass can be not only one person, but multiple people. Language and how to express it seems to be a point that is drawn up in this theory and can be shown in a few different examples. One example would be Communication through texting. One cannot tell how you are expressing the text…