Symbolic Interaction: Constructing the Social World–and its Participants' Identities

This chapter explores the process of how the social world is constructed and maintained through the perspective of symbolic interaction theory. Although symbolic interaction theory is often applied primarily to the micro level, the structuring of interdependent lines of behavior at the meso and macro levels also involves shared definitions developed through interaction. The overall culture of a society is the objective outcome of these shared social definitions whereby subjective meanings are created, often expressed in material artifacts of various types, and either sustained or transformed through interaction.

Our coverage of the symbolic interactionist perspective in this chapter will be organized around the following themes:
  • Symbolic interaction as process versus structure—Herbert Blumer’s emphasis on the fluid and ever-changing nature of the interaction process will be highlighted for its contrast with the traditional focus of sociologists on social structures. In addition, the development of a structural form of symbolic interaction will also be described

  • Roles and identities—This section will focus on individuals’ self-concepts in relation to their various social roles in different social situations. The following perspectives will be highlighted:
    • Norbert Wiley’s focus on an intentional, future-oriented aspect of one’s identity that moves beyond a pattern reflecting past experiences

    • George McCall and J. L. Simmons’ “role-identity” model for explaining both the stable aspects of one’s identity as well as its changing aspects


Social World Social Reality Role Performance Role Identity Symbolic Interaction 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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