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Symbolic Interaction - Essay Example

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Symbolic interaction and naturalistic method achieved particular prominence in the USA and Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time they formed part of the reaction against those kinds of sociology that had become dominant in the 1940s and 1950s. The attack on these orthodoxies involved political, theoretical and methodological arguments…
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Symbolic Interaction
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Download file to see previous pages Similarly, the dominant methodological approach, survey research, was criticized as dehumanizing, as eliminating the most significant elements of human life, and thereby producing a distorted picture of the world.
"Symbolic Interaction is a down-to-earth approach to the scientific study of human group life and human conduct. Its empirical world is the natural world of such group life and conduct. It lodges its problems in this natural world, conducts its studies in it, and derives its interpretations from such naturalistic studies." (p.67)
Blumer's theoretical and methodological arguments were an important resource drawn on by many of the critics of sociological orthodoxy in this period. Symbolic Interaction grew popular as a theoretical counter to functionalism, and the 'naturalistic' methods advocated by Blumer became one of the most common alternatives to survey research. On both sides of the Atlantic, there was considerable growth in the amount of interactionist ethnography in many fields, but especially in the study of deviance, medicine, and education. Blumer was an important, though by no means the only, influence on those adopting this approach. Most of the arguments currently used to legitimate qualitative research are to be found in his writings.
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Symbolic Interaction rests on three primary premises. First, that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings those things have for them, second that such meanings arise out of the interaction of the individual with others, and third, that an interpretive process is used by the person in each instance in which he must deal with things in his environment. It was Blumer's perception that the first premise was largely ignored, or at least down-played, by his contemporaries. If mentioned at all, he asserted, meaning is relegated to the status of a causative factor or is treated as a "mere transmission link that can be ignored in favour of the initiating factors" by both sociologists and psychologists. Symbolic Interaction, however, holds the view that the central role in human behaviour belongs to these very meanings which other viewpoints would dismiss as incidental.
As to the second premise, Blumer identified two traditional methods for accounting for the derivation of meaning and highlights how they differ from the Interactionist approach. First, meaning is taken to be innate to the object considered (i.e., it inheres in the objective characteristics of the object). In this view, meaning is given and no process is involved in forming an understanding of it, one need only recognize what is already there. Second, meaning is taken to be the cumulative "psychical accretion" of perceptions carried by the perceiver for whom the object has meaning. "This psychical accretion is treated as being an expression of constituent elements of the person's psyche, mind, or psychological organization." The constituents of the individual's psychological makeup that go to form meaning, then, are all of the sensory and attitudinal data that the person brings to the instance of meaning formation with her.
In marked contradistinction to these viewpoints, Social Interaction holds that meaning arises out of the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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