Symbolic interactionism

The symbolic interactionism is a sociological theory of the micro- sociology, which deals with the interaction between people. This theory of action is based on the idea that the meaning of social objects, situations and relationships in symbolically mediated process of interaction / communication is produced (see also: action and social action, symbolic communication).

  • 3.1 Basic assumptions
  • 3.2 Social and individual action
  • 3.3 Human coexistence
  • 3.4 interpretations
  • 3.5 The emergence of social norms and rules
  • 3.6 Conclusion


The school of symbolic interactionism was founded by Herbert Blumer ( 1900-1987 ). Blumer was a student of the social philosopher and social psychologist George Herbert Mead early ( 1863-1931 ). As Blumer elaborated symbolic interactionism, he oriented primarily at Mead's reflections on the evolutionary ( phylogenetic ) formation of consciousness and personal ( ontogenetic ) development of identity using a common language: " Logical Universe significant symbols ". See also: John Cunningham Lilly

George H. Mead's ideas as the basis for symbolic interactionism

Man as a social being

Self- consciousness / identity and the ability to think man first developed within and through social relations. Accordingly, the individual and society are interwoven process- and are mutually dependent.

Mead posits that communication is the factor that has caused the development of man as a social being, because the typical human communication and interaction about " significant symbols " takes place. These symbols are universal concepts, that is, that the icon in his own identity, the same triggers as with the others. The meaning or the meaning of a symbol is interpreted the same for all members of society.

An example would be a situation in which someone "Fire! " Screams. The people interpret the word, and there is a general concept, they react and act in the same situation.

As seen in the example, the social interaction is made possible by the symbolic interactionism. He assumes that one can take and internalize the foreign perspective, and can consider itself from the foreign perspective.

Socialization with Mead

Socialization is at Mead understood as a process of personal development and integration into society. Only in the organized community or social group develops the individual a unified identity. A "significant other " plays a role in the socialization. He exercises a decisive influence on the individual. Characteristics of a " significant others " are emotional occupation, constant interaction and power differential.

Examples: parents, teachers

The child becomes a member of the society by the roles and attitudes of " significant others " and thus the morality and the norms of society to some - accepts degrees (see self-concept ) - individually different.

Socialization as a process of identity formation

The acquisition of the attitudes of others in people 's identity and consistent self-confidence develops. An identity of a person consists of elementary identities, corresponding to the different process aspects of society. The structure of the complete identity is thus a reflection of the whole social process. So the identity is only possible if a person lives in a community or a social group.

Mead distinguishes three stages of development of role-taking, which differ according to complexity:

Personality theory

Identity evolves always in interaction with society. At the level of personality Mead distinguishes two central instances, the same coordinate action in interaction, and function. These instances of self- Mead calls "me " and " I" ( German often with "I " translated and "I" ).

The "I" ( personales Self) called spontaneity, creativity, and the uniquely subjective. This instance represents a position-taking in response to the other attitudes about themselves dar. Often this aspect is compared with the engines available to man.

The "me " ( social self ) refers to the idea of ​​the image that others have of me, embracing their expectations of me. It's evaluator for the structuring of spontaneous impulses. It is the social aspect of identity. For the expectations of each other accordingly developed an expression of the "me " that is, a social representation of the image of one's self in the course of ontogenesis these different perspectives are synthesized in constant dialogue with the "I" to an abstract picture.

The two parts are in constant inner dialogue. Who will decide on further actions and development of a person. Its output is initially open but because the balance between "me " and "I" depends on several factors. According to Mead changed and the identity reorganized in the course of life again and again and is thus an active process ( socialization ).

Phases of the self in inner dialogue

Phase I: action design of the individual ( "I")

Phase II: opinion from the perspective of the generalized other ( "me " )

Phase III: opinion and decision of the individual ( "self " )

Symbolic interactionism by Herbert Blumer

Basic assumptions

Blumer introduced in 1969 following basic assumptions on symbolic interactionism on:

Other basic assumptions:

  • People create the world of experience, in which they live.
  • The meanings of these worlds are the result of interactions and helps to shape the self-reflexive moments each situational brought in by the people.
  • The interaction of people with itself is interwoven with social interaction and influence them in turn.
  • Formation and resolution, conflict and mergers of joint actions constitute the social life of human society.
  • A complex process of interpretation produces and shapes the meaning of things for people.

The activity of the people is so loud Blumer is that they deal with the situations in which they must act. Their action is constructed on the basis of what they perceive how they assess the perceived and interpreted, and what kind of planned courses of action they design.

Social and individual action

This interpretation of human action can be equally applied to common, collective action, where a variety of actors and individuals are involved. Social action ( in the literal sense, ie acting in a society / in a social setting ) can alway be named according to Blumer as social action. Since social action is always based on individuals, it is possible by the symbolic interactionism to consider this action both in its common, collective character as well as in his individual, ie by the symbolic interactions of individuals constituted components.

Human coexistence

Common, collective action provides for the symbolic interactionism always the result or the course of a process mutually interpretive interactions dar. Human coexistence thus consists in the mutual succession tuning the actions by the parties, the specific character of the joint actions in the compound of the parties themselves is well founded. The common action, which denotes Blumer as the " totality of the associated action" therefore, is always the totality of the concatenation / Successive votes of individual actions of individuals, and thus the result of a continually running, never completed development. Human coexistence is therefore "and in the mutual succession tuning the lines of action by the parties," the specific character of joint actions is precisely this self- justified in the connection and regardless of what is in each case connected or linked.


If you look at those cases in which joint action is recurring and stable (ie, socially well-established, repetitive patterns of joint action ), the people involved in the situation have in advance an understanding of how they and others want to act and probably be. This understanding is derived from the common, existing patterns of interpretation or interpretations of what is to be expected from the action of a participant of a situation. Due to this very understanding of each participant will be able to control his own behavior on the basis of these interpretations.

The emergence of social norms and rules

There is the risk, cause and effect so as to exchange that one could come to the conclusion that it was the norms, rules, values, and sanctions that determine people's actions. And by prescribing how people act in different situations.

However, according to Blumer, the interactions of the participants in a situation not be determined by the values ​​and norms; but the values ​​and norms are constituted only by the continuous negotiation of meanings in the interactions of the participants. This applies even if the actions remain consistent. Because even if it revolves around a permanently existing and recurring form of joint action, each repetition of such common action must be developed again. If repeated the action, so the participants do this by using the same recurring and constant meanings. This could, however, consider whether the relevant actions nevertheless possess a unique quality, as even while remaining consistent in interpretations of a situation exactly what will be the other.

If we accept the continual formation of new actions and interpretations, and repeating, this means it were, a shift in perspective. Consequently, it is not the common action that ( " about everything floating" ) rule or norm subordinated to an ever- existing; but, the rules and norms arise when meanings are negotiated and the common action is constructed.


Both recurring actions as well as new forms of joint action are therefore the result of an interaction driven by interpretation process.