Interactionist Approach: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 What Is Interactionism?
  • 0:46 Mead - The Self
  • 1:36 Goffman -…
  • 2:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Symbolic interaction, or interactionism, is one of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. Let's take a look at some key theories and concepts of this perspective and look at some examples.

What Is Interactionism?

Interactionism, also known as symbolic interaction, is one of the main perspectives in sociology. Interactionism uses a micro-level approach, focusing on social interaction in specific situations. While much of sociology focuses on broad social structures that shape society as a whole, symbolic interaction is a framework for building theory that sees society as the product of those everyday interactions between individuals.

To an interactionist, perception is reality; the reality that people experience is variable and changing. Key thinkers in symbolic interaction include George Mead and Erving Goffman. Let's explore their theories with a bit more detail.

Mead - The Self

George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) was an American philosopher who first introduced a micro-level approach to sociology by exploring how our personalities develop as a part of social experience. Mead's central concept is the self, a dimension of personality composed of an individual's self-awareness and self-image. Key to Mead's theory of the self is that this part of our personality isn't present at birth but develops with social experience and social interaction with others.

Mead also argued that human beings differ from other animals in that we attach meaning to other's actions. We imagine that other people's intentions are with every action they take. In a process Mead called 'taking the role of the other,' we imagine situations from other people's point of view. All social interaction involves seeing ourselves as others see us.

Goffman - Dramaturgical Analysis

Erving Goffman (1922 -1982) was a Canadian-born sociologist and is considered one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century. His best known work is his theory of dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of a theatrical performance. The presentation of self, or an individual's effort to create specific impressions in the minds of others, is a central focus of dramaturgy.

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