Description of the Theory
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In the beginning of the twentieth century Charles H. Cooley and George H. Mead formulated the symbolic interaction theory. The theory of symbolic interaction, as sociology based theory, postulates that the world that people live in is mostly constructed socially. Specifically, different people derive different meanings form objects, events and behaviors exhibited by fellow human beings. These different meanings developed by people about things or objects are often as a result of the interpretations that such people give these objects or events (Charon 73). Cooley and Mead further argued that because different people will develop different interpretations about objects, events and behaviors, the meaning derived from such interpretations will also differ.
Charles Cooley argued that the way we think, act or interpret things is usually a reflection of the how other people would appraise or approve us. Consequently, individuals will tend to behave in a manner that conforms to the expected appraisal or approving from the people that particular person considers important to him or her. This group of people that is often used as the mirror or reference is referred to as primary group by Cooley. He further argues that individual often tend to think about themselves in relation to the self-concepts built by the primary groups (Charon 89). On the other hand, George Mead highlighted that human beings exhibit indirect reaction or response to events and objects. This indirect reaction is based on the interpretations that people develop form the events or situations. Furthermore, Mead argues that an individual will admire good behavior exhibited by another person and avoid bad behavior that may result into punishment.
The symbolic interaction theory describes human beings as social creatures who have the capability to interact freely through use of symbols such as words, body gestures and roles. Through symbolic interactions, people develop various meanings from a set of symbols. These meanings developed are then used to define the world in which humans live. According to this theory, these meanings developed by people result from continuous interactions between individuals and their environment. The various meanings derived are then used to define specific symbols that refer to the interactions between human beings and the environment. Accordingly, it is important to first understand these symbols so as to be able to understand the nature of human behavior.
Cooley and Mead postulate that human interactions with the environment also influence the behaviors of individuals. Similarly, the behavior of individuals will also influence the environment. Accordingly, individuals develop both self-concepts and societal concepts as a result of persistent interactions with the environment. According to Herman-Kinney, Nancy and Reynolds, the society will affect the behavior of an individual through certain constraints such as cultural beliefs, values and social norms (52).
The symbolic interactions theory has numerous assumptions such as development of self-concepts and societal concepts from repeated interactions with the environment and other people. Secondly, the theory assumes that behaviors in human beings are motivated by self-concepts that have been developed from interactions with the environment. It also assumes that individuals are born without sense of self. The sense of self in developed later in life through social interactions. Similarly, different people will behave differently under similar situations due to their ability to develop varying interpretations of their interaction with the environment.
Moreover, people communicate to each other through use of symbols that have specific roles and meanings attached to them. It is thus important for an individual to first understand these symbols and their meanings in order to effectively communicate with other people. The theory assumes that people are symbolic creatures that have the capability to interpret their environment as well as exchange their emotions. These characteristics increase the level of exchange of ideas and rate of interactions with other people. The theory also hypothesizes that the various meanings derived from interactions with the environment may be further modified through more interpretative processes.
Last but not least, the theory assumes that human beings are reasonable creatures that act in accordance with the prevailing environmental situations. The symbolic interactions theory asserts that individuals act towards things based on predetermined meanings that they had previously developed (Stryker 146). Such meanings are usually linked to those as a result of social interaction between the individual and the objects.
Personal View towards a Social Issue and Its Relation to Symbolic Interaction Theory
In my opinion, the war on Iraq that was declared by President George W. Bush is a good example of how human beings deploy symbolic interactions in their lives. America declared war on Iraq after the September 11 bombing attacks. According to United States of America, the bombing attacks represented high insecurity and a call for war between US and Iraq. Due to its frequent conflicts with Middle East countries, US suspected that the attacks were carried out by Iraq. In my view, US interpreted the attacks as a call for engagement in counterattacks and war. Similarly, it suspected Iraq because of the poor relationships between them. America interpreted the persistent conflicts between her and Middle East countries s as the possible cause for its attack on September 11.
Another example is whereby different people from different cultural backgrounds meet for the first time and none of them knows the other person’s language. These people will communicate to one another through use of body gestures such nodding the head to mean yes or pointing at something to show direction.
In conclusion, the symbolic interactions theory depicts human beings as intellectual creatures that are capable of deriving meanings about objects and then act in accordance to these derived meanings. In my opinion, by suggesting that human beings derive meanings from interpretative processes and interactions with other people and the society at large, the theory thus postulates that such meanings derived from social interactions are not stable or static. Consequently, a change in the environment will thus result into a change in meaning derivable from it. This would consequently imply that meanings of objects or events are changed every now and then, which is not usually the case. The theory thus makes unreasonable assumptions.
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