Introduction to Theories of Human Communication
Lecture 7: Symbolic Interactionism
I. Foundations of Symbolic Interactionism
A. Symbolic Interactionism is a theory that focuses on the role that communication plays
in the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships and social groups.
B. Symbolic Interactionism is based on the ontological assumption that reality is "socially constructed." That is, what we believe to be true is based on how we, and others, talk about what we believe to be true. Reality, then, is based on observations, interpretations, perceotions, and conclusions we can agree on through talk.
C. The basic ideas of Social Interactionism are credited to George Herbert Mead (http://www.iep.utm.edu/m/mead.htm).
1. Communication occurs through the medium of symbols and
their accompanying meanings. Without symbols, "communication" is impossible.
The formation and maintenance of all social units depends on people sharing symbols
and meanings -- binding force in any social unit.
Social units often develop their own specialized set of symbols and meanings;
thus people gain acceptance into that social unit by utilizing the shared symbols
and meanings of the group.
Assumptions of Symbolic Interactionsim
In the wake of Mead's ideas, one of his students, Herbert Blumer (http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta-discourses/Papers/App_Papers/Nelson.htm), coined the terms
"symbolic interactionism" to organize a set of propositions about the way humans
interact with each other.
are actors, not reactors -- i.e., Actions begin with an impulse, but ultimately involve conscious, rational choice.
2. People's actions towards
others are based on the meanings that external stimuli (objects, events, behaviors)
have for them.
3. The meanings that we associate
with external stimuli are derived from past social interactions, and are constantly
being modified through continued social interactions.
The Great Debate: Herbert Blumer vs. Manford Kuhn
One of the great intellectual debates the emerged following the development of
"symbolic interactionism" revolved around the following question:
Are the actions of individuals governed my social roles that they play in everyday
life? Or are they determined by inate personality traits?
over the answer to this question led to the split of symbolic
interactionist experts into two camps: The CHICAGO SCHOOL, led by Herbert Blumer,
and the IOWA SCHOOL, led my Manford Kuhn.
Visitors as of August 18, 2011
copyrighted © 2011
University of Hawaii at Hilo