Symbolic Interactionism


Symbolic Interactionism is based on three assumptions:

  1.  communication occurs through the creation of shared significant symbols,
  2. the self is constructed through communication, and
  3. social activity becomes possible through the role-taking process.

You can get a basic grasp of this theory by learning its keywords and how they fit together.

I -- the active portion of the self capable of performing behaviors.

Me -- the socially reflective portion of the self, providing social control for the actions of the I.

Self -- the combination of the I and the Me. Self is a process, not a structure. The I acts and the me defines the self as reflective of others.

Self-indication -- experience and feedback as the I acts and the Me observes the I from the role of the Other. The Me then gives direction regarding future action to the I.

Generalized Other -- the typical members of a society or culture.

Specific Other -- the idea of a specific person outside the Self.

Role Taking -- putting oneself in the place of another, or waling in someone else's shoes. We learn to Role Take by Play and Games.

Play -- activity where a child is both the self and an other, without recognizing the self. The child plays both roles without recognizing the self in either role.

Game -- interaction where the child has the attitude of all the others involved in the game. The child is the self but can recognize the other's perspectives. Thus, behavior is not a response but an interpretive process. The individual can comprehend the self only through interaction with other people.

Gesture (nonsymbolic) Interaction -- an impulsive and spontaneous action in the sense of a reflex response (e.g., pulling your hand away quickly when after it touches something hot).

Symbolic Interaction -- an interpretation of a symbol.

Symbol -- the representation of one thing for another thing.

Significant Symbol -- a symbol that has shared meaning (e.g., the words in a language).

Mind -- a social, behavioral process in which the human being is capable of acting toward and even creating his or her environment, or objects in the environment.


For detailed information read:

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

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