Sociology: Sociology and Symbolic Meanings Essay

Submitted By Ben-Clark-Spear
Words: 757
Pages: 4

In American culture it is customary upon meeting a stranger that you introduce yourself by shaking their hand. Among other cultures and depending on the level of familiarity one may have with another, a hug, kiss, certain body language, or facial expressions might be associated with greeting someone—such as kissing the cheek of a family member when you haven’t seen them in a long time. The Theory of Symbolic Interactionism helps one to understand how these greetings might arise, “we interact with others using words and behaviors that have symbolic meanings. This theory has three basic tenets: 1. Human beings act toward ideas, concepts, and values on the basis of the meaning those things have for them. 2. These meanings are the products of social interaction in human society. 3. These meanings are modified and filtered through an interpretive process that each individual uses in dealing with outward signs.” (Connally, 137-138) Through this lens one can observe how certain actions gain symbolic meanings within a culture. To see the extent that shanking someone’s hand upon introducing yourself has become an expectation in American culture and to see how quickly one can transfer a symbolic meaning onto a new action, for 48 hours when introducing myself to strangers, I would embrace them with a hug rather, then give them a handshake.
For 48 hours I introduced myself to as many strangers as possible. When I ran into friends around campus, I’d introduce myself to, and hug, whomever they were with. I attended study groups for midterms with students that I had never met in lecture before. I went to an art gallery opening, and finally went to a party at a friend’s apartment. I ended up meeting and hugging 43 new people. Around campus and at the my friend’s party the people I was meeting appeared to be students approximately in the age rage of 18-22. At the art opening the crowd was a bit more diverse in age but generally seemed to be young professionals approximately in the age range of 23-35.
Within my experiment, I had essentially three responses. When I would hug someone upon greeting I received either A) a warm, positive response, B) an upset, angry, or irritated response, or C) a neutral, confused response. Overall, I received a positive response (30 subjects), even when breaking a social norm. I think this is attributable to several factors. First, I was a relatively non-threatening person, and I think that affected how easy it was for me to buck the norm in this situation. I'm well dressed, clean, and generally read as a nonthreatening person. If I had more signifiers to the people I was trying to hug that suggested I was somehow a danger, I'm sure my experience would have been more negative. I also noted that among the neutral and negative response group (13 subjects) 7 of those subjects were of a observably older