Symbolic interactionism (SI) is a sociological perspective that developed in the United States around the middle of the twentieth century. Among other characteristics, theories that bear the hallmark of the symbolic interactionist perspective typically devote attention to micro-level social dynamics and the micropolitics of everyday interaction. Whereas other types of sociological theory might attempt to explain how organizations, institutions, or even nations are constituted and maintained, those who adopt a SI approach tend to focus on how interactions between individuals and groups either succeed or fail. In particular, the SI perspective emphasizes the significance of symbols, both agreed upon and contested, and how those symbols play a role in accomplishing routine interactions. Scroll down to explore just a handful of the resources offered on The Sociological Cinema which are related to this highly influential perspective in sociology.
George Herbert Mead
George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) is often regarded to be an important founder of the symbolic interactionist approach in sociology, Mead was born to a Massachusetts family with a strong intellectual tradition, and both his parents were academics. After completing college, he restlessly traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest, surveying for the railroad and reading voraciously. He gradually settled on the idea of studying philosophy, an academic endeavor he pursued at Harvard and in Europe. Mead took a teaching position at the new University of Chicago. But his path to becoming a historically important figure mostly occurred after his death, when colleagues and former students collected and published his lecture notes. During his life, however, Mead is also noted for drawing together a wide range of ideas to help launch the new field of social psychology. It comes through in Mead's writing that he regarded social change to be as ongoing and societies to be as changeable as the life of any individual. For Mead, society may have the power to shape individuals, but people also have the capacity to mold their society. Read more here.
Making Robots and the Role for Symbolic Interactionism
Sociologist Lester Andrist sits down with his brother and computer scientist, Sean Andrist to discuss the role of work in symbolic interaction for solving problems of human-robot interaction. Listen to it here.
Symbolic Interactionism in Pictures
Check out this curated Pinterest board for pins related to the symbolic interactionist perspective. These pins can be used to spice up dull lecture slides and may even inspire conversation. See more here.
The Sociological Cinema offers even more video posts related to the symbolic interactionism perspective here
Genesis of the Self
Timothy B. Gongaware, PhD uses a video of a child playing to illustrate George Herbert Mead's phases of play and game in the formation of the Self. Watch the video and read more here.
Erving Goffman (1922 - 1983) was a sociologist interested in the strategy and tactics of social interaction. For instance, he was interested in how people manage the impressions of themselves in everyday social interactions in order to achieve some given outcome. In his book Gender Advertisements he took a slightly different tack by examining the way advertising reflects and shapes ideas about masculinity and femininity. He noted that women are routinely depicted as subordinate to men and are posed not as equals but as children might be posed in relation to their parents. Find a cache of short videos and insightful analyses related to the ideas of Erving Goffman here.
Symbolic Interactionism on Seinfeld
Writer Caitlin Cross-Barnet uses this video of casual racism on the television sitcom Seinfeld as a means of illustrating what Erving Goffman termed disruption and breakdown during everyday social interactions. Read more here.
Arlie Russell Hochschild
Arlie Russell Hochschild (1940) is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley and has built a career on the insight that the inner emotional lives of individuals are profoundly social. As the child of diplomats, Hochschild often observed meetings with state officials and noted that the boundaries people draw between inner experience and outer appearance. In her book, The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling, she writes: "I found myself passing a dish of peanuts among many guests and looking up at their smiles...The tight smile of the Bulgarian emissary, the averted glance of the Chinese consul...Had I passed the peanuts to a person, I wondered, or to an actor? Where did the person end and the act begin?"
In her 1973 dissertation Hochschild acknowledges sociologist Erving Goffman as a major influence, but she has also noted that C.W. Mills had an influence on her early work. In White Collar, Mills' contention that we "sell our personality" resonated with Hochschild but the insight did not go far enough. Missing for Hochschild was the active emotional labor involved in the selling, and detailing this active emotional labor has arguably been one of the major themes uniting the various publications of Hochschild's distinguished career.
In her new book Strangers in Their Own Land, which is based on interviews she conducts with political conservatives who live in and around Louisiana bayou country, Hochschild explores the "deep stories" these conservative Americans relied to inform their support of then Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. Hochschild sat down to discuss her book on the Ezra Klein Show podcast, and the episode offers a rich account of sociological research.