Symbolic interactionism, or interactionism for short, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. This perspective has a long intellectual history, beginning with the German sociologist and economist, Max Weber (1864-1920) and the American philosopher, George H. Mead (1863-1931), both of whom emphasized the subjective meaning of human behavior, the social process, and pragmatism.
Herbert Blumer, who studied with Mead at the University of Chicago, is responsible for coining the term, "symbolic interactionism," as well as for formulating the most prominent version of the theory.
    Symbolic Interactionism In Sociology, Drawbacks of Symbolic interactionism
  • Interactionists focus on the subjective aspects of social life, rather than on objective, macro-structural aspects of social systems.
  • One reason for this focus is that interactionists base their theoretical perspective on their image of humans, rather than on their image of society (as the functionalists do).
  • For the interactionist, society consists of organized and patterned interactions among individuals.
  • Research by interactionists focuses on easily observable face-to- face interactions rather than on macro-level structural relationships involving social institutions.
  • Furthermore, this focus on interaction and on the meaning of events to the participants in those events shifts the attention of interactionists away from stable norms and values toward more changeable, continually readjusting social processes.
  • Whereas for functionalists socialization creates stability in the social system, for interactionists negotiation among members of society creates temporary, socially constructed relations which remain in constant flux, despite relative stability in the basic framework governing those relations.
  • For interactionists, humans are pragmatic actors who continually must adjust their behavior to the actions of other actors. We can adjust to these actions only because we are able to interpret them,
  • This approach focuses attention on interactions between groups – peers, teacher-student, teacher-principal, on student attitudes and achievement, on students‘ values, on their self –concepts and their effect on aspirations and the relationship between students‘ socio- economic status and their achievement.
Two interaction theories are of great importance in sociology of education. They are labelling theory and exchange theory. The labeling theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them, and is associated with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping. If a child is repeatedly told that s/he is stupid or lazy, s/he will make the ‘label‘ a part of her/his self concept and behave accordingly. Students almost always fulfill teachers‘ expectations.

Exchange theory emphasizes the idea that social action is the result of personal choices made by considering relative benefits and costs. The theory of social exchange predicts that people will make choices with the intention of maximizing benefits. A key component of this theory is the postulation of the "comparison level of alternatives", which is the actor's sense of the best possible alternative (i.e., the choice with the highest benefits relative to costs)based on the assumption that there are costs and rewards involved in our interactions. The reasons that make people to engage in a social exchange are:

1. anticipated reciprocity;

2. expected gain in reputation and influence on others

3. altruism and perception of efficacy

4. direct reward.

Reciprocal interactions bind individual and groups with obligations. From 1975 onwards, a growing number of educationists felt that a radical approach was needed to understand educational systems. As a reaction to ‘macrocosmic‘ approaches which had little emphasis on interaction, they based their ideas on symbolic interaction.

Ethnomethodology is a partial offshoot of phenomenological sociology with deep roots in classical social theory and sociolinguistics. It is the descriptive study of the reporting and accounting practices
(‘methods‘) through which socially embedded actors come to attribute meaning and rationality to their own and others‘ behavior. Ethnomethodologists study interactive, ad hoc sense making at the sites where social structures are produced and reproduced through talk and coordinated action.

Applied to education this has taken the form of studying interaction processes in classrooms, the management and the use of knowledge, the question- what is to be ‘educated‘, curriculum content etc.

Interactionists tend to study social interaction through participant observation, rather than surveys and interviews. They argue that close contact and immersion in the everyday lives of the participants is necessary for understanding the meaning of actions, the definition of the situation itself, and the process by which actors construct the situation through their interaction. Given this close contact, interactionists cannot remain free of value commitments, and, in fact, interactionists make explicit use of their values in choosing what to study but strive to be objective in the conduct of their research.

Drawbacks of Symbolic interactionism

Symbolic interactionists are often criticized by other sociologists for being overly impressionistic in their research methods and somewhat unsystematic in their theories.

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