Symbolic Interactionism (Perspective)

Symbolic Interactionism (Perspective)

Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that emphasizes the importance of symbols, language, and social interactions in shaping individuals' understanding of the world and their roles within it.

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Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that developed in the early 20th century, influenced heavily by the pragmatism of George Herbert Mead. It examines how individuals interact and derive meaning from symbols in every day social encounters.

Key Ideas

  • Focuses on subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events or behaviors
  • Sees humans as active agents in constructing social realities and self-identities
  • Socialization involves learning shared meanings through interaction and communication

Key Concepts

  • Looking glass self - Sense of self based on how we think others see us
  • Role taking - Ability to consider different social roles and viewpoints
  • Definition of the situation - Unique interpretations of interactions in a setting
  • Dramaturgy - Social interactions as akin to dramatic performances


  • George Herbert Mead introduced key ideas like significance of the self, roles and reflexivity
  • Herbert Blumer coined the term and distilled symbolic interactionism's premises
  • Erving Goffmann extended analysis of dramaturgy and impression management


  • Lacks macro-level analysis of structural constraints on interactions
  • Overstates human agency while underplaying reproduction of social systems

Symbolic interactionism remains one of sociology's major perspectives. Its insights around social construction of reality, self and identity via shared meanings continues to inspire studies in areas like education, psychiatry, social work and the workplace.

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