According to the symbolic interactionism theory, communication is an ongoing process of using gestures and language for predicting how others will respond. One of the great contributors to this theory, George Herbert Mead, said that communication is the key to creating self-concepts, thoughts, and communities. The follower of George Herbert, Herbert Blumer composed the term Mead Symbolic Interactionism.
The Key Principles of Symbolic Interactionism
- Meaning: The important assumption of this theory is that human beings react towards certain things or people depending on the meanings which they allocate to them. For example, because of the socially established meaning given to that particular outfit or attire, we behave in a certain way by looking at a man wearing a stethoscope and a white overcoat that determines that a person is a doctor.
- Language: Language is the means of conveying meaning through Social Interactions. The arbitrary signs of it are the symbols and the words. To put it in simpler words, you can give meaning only by talking to someone. This is known as symbolic interaction. The people came to know about certain words or symbols only because of their social Interaction.
- Thinking: According to each person’s mental processes the interpretations of symbols vary depending on symbolic integrationists, thinking is an inner conversation or minding. As Mead calls it a reflective pause. So, whenever you think about searching for something else to say or what you will say the next in a particular situation or conversation, it is nothing but the minding process you are doing. According to Mead, thinking is the inner conversation we do in our heads and is always about others and how they will react or see us.
- The Role of the Others: Visualising or thinking how we look to others or the concept of thinking that how others will see us. Integrationists call this principle of symbolic interactionism the mental image or looking glass self.
- Self: The self is a language function in symbolic interactionism theory. According to Mead, self-expressed the subjective self. It is an inaccurate and spontaneous aspect called “I,” and the objective self is how other people look at us- “me.”
Apart from this, one has a composite mental image about themselves depending on societal responses and expectations.
Symbolic Interaction does not meet the appropriate standards when placed against the checklist of good objective theory. The key of this theory is to examine the people and their behaviour closely. Although there is no possibility of predicting an individual behaviour due to the amount of free will they have. So, under the same conditions and with the same variables, the results may differ from each other.
Checklist for Good Interpretive Theory
- New Understanding of People: Do the studies of understanding the reality of a group of people in a new way has developed? The answer to this is yes; complemented by societal influences Mead has shown how self-conception is formed through our interactions with others. However, it will still not be the product of conditioning.
- Clarification of Values: Can it associate the motivation behind the message? Yes, as human beings use gestures and languages to anticipate the way in which others will react. Is it look for identifying, unmasking or acknowledging the theory behind the message being scrutinized? Yes, it does. Is the theorist ready to reveal its own ethical commitments? Yes, Mead has stated that human beings have the free will to create or make communication choices that are meaningful.
- Aesthetic Appeal: Does the theory consists of illustrations, metaphors, and images, which makes it vigorous and draws the attention of others? The answer to this is no because this theory is not clear to some communication theorists. The unclear concepts, disobedient approach, and fluid boundaries make it difficult to explain and summarize the key principles.
- Community of Agreement: Is it helpful in generating support inside a community of knowledgeable and interested scholars? Yes, the theoretical potential of the looking glass self has not only influenced the study of the self-concept area to a great extent. Still, it has also been a principal in the sociology field.
- Society Reforms: Can it produce fresh alternatives and changes for social actions? No, as Mead was a sociologist who put in efforts to help the displaced and marginalized groups. Hence, it is a great shock that this theory was unable to bring social change. Does it publically withstand and reveal the belief that penetrates the acceptance of wisdom culture? The answer to this is no, and it hasn’t done so.
- Is the Theory Grounded in Qualitative Research? Yes, the symbolic interactionism theory by Mead is mainly applied via ethnographic research or by observing the participation. The qualitative data would yield by using this type of research method, which is valuable for an interpretive scholar.
Remember that it is not necessary for the theory to meet all of the mentioned requirements, but it must at least meet most of them.
The Three Main Premises of Symbolic Interactionism that Mead Highlighted:
- The first is that human beings react towards certain things or people depending upon the meaning they assign to them. When we elucidate the situations as real, the result of the conditions also becomes real, and often, interpretations made in society become hard to exist.
2. The second premise is the people’s social interactions with each other the meaning can be taken out. The objectives don’t actually have a meaning but are taken out by arranging the language use; this is why the term symbolic interactionism is used.
3. The third premise says that symbolic interactionism is a method of intelligent expression and is also a method of elucidating the world. In simpler words, society and the people have made wrong assumptions that go on in the whole world.
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