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Interactionism in Sociology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Interactionism
  • 1:56 Examples
  • 2:59 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Interactionism is one of the four common theoretical perspectives of sociology. Learn more about interactionism from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Interactionism Defined

Interactionism in sociology is a theoretical perspective in which society is thought to be a product of the everyday social interactions among millions of people. Instead of looking at a social system on a larger scale, such as the entire population of a country or third world countries, interactionism focuses on smaller-scale social interactions, such as the interactions between individuals or small social groups. George Herbert Mead, Max Weber, and Herbert Blumer have all made several contributions to the interactionism theory.

Interactionism in sociology focuses on the way that we act, or make conscious choices regarding our behavior that proceed from how we interpret situations. In other words, humans are not simply reacting to social stimuli: we are social actors and must adjust our behavior based on the actions of other social actors.

Interactionism in sociology examines how different social actors make sense of or interpret the behavior of those around us. This information can be used to understand the social construction of the world, which is focused on not only the meanings that we give to behavior, but also how we interpret the meanings of behavior.

For example, suppose that we were driving along a road when a truck speeds by us going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. We would interpret that behavior as being wrong and illegal since the car was breaking the speed limit. Now let's say that we heard a siren and saw that the truck was actually a red fire truck going to put out a fire. Then we would interpret this behavior as acceptable given the fact that the fire truck has a good reason for breaking the speed limit.

Interactionism is also concerned with the social context in which our interactions take place. The social context not only plays an important role in the way in which we interpret others' behavior but also how we choose to behave ourselves at any given moment.

Examples of Interactionism

Examples of interactionism can be found all around us. For example, there is no necessary relationship between a red truck with sirens and a fire. Yet, we were able to recognize in the example above that the red truck we saw was heading to put out a fire. It is only because we have been taught through social interactions to associate the truck with fires that we are able to understand that seeing the truck with its siren on means that there is a fire somewhere that needs to be put out.

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