Sociology Index


Symbolic interactionism is a sociological perspective that stresses the way societies are created through the interactions of individuals. Symbolic interactionism focuses on the way that individuals, through their interpretations of social situations and behavioural negotiation with others, give meaning to social interaction. Symbolic interactionism examines stratification from a micro-level perspective. Symbolic interactionists describe thinking as an inner conversation. Unlike consensus perspective (structural functionalism) and conflict perspectives, symbolic interactionism does not stress the idea of a social system possessing structure and regularity. Symbolic interactionists believe that people’s appearance reflects their perceived social standing. Clothing, housing, and transportation indicate social status, as do taste in accessories, hairstyles, and personal style.

George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), a founder of symbolic interactionism, saw interaction as creating and recreating the patterns and structures that bring society to life. Mead called this inner dialogue minding, and these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters.

More recently there has been a tendency to argue that society has no objective reality aside from individual symbolic interaction, but this view has been criticized for ignoring the role of culture and social structure in giving shape, direction and meaning to social interaction. Dramaturgical model is a sociological perspective stemming from symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism comes from a sociological perspective which developed the twentieth century, is particularly important in microsociology and social psychology.

Three Assumptions Frame Symbolic Interactionism

The first premise of symbolic interactionism, "Humans act toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things," includes everything that a human being may note in their world. Blumer was trying to put emphasis on the meaning behind individual behaviors, psychological and sociological explanations for those actions and behaviors.

The second premise of symbolic interactionism, "The meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with others and the society, explains that the arises out of, the social interaction that one has with other humans. Blumer, claimed people interact with each other by interpreting or defining each other's actions instead of merely reacting to each other's actions.

The third premise of symbolic interactionism, "The Meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by the person in dealing with the things he/she encounters."

Symbolic Interactionism Books

The conflict perspective, symbolic interactionism, and the status characteristics hypothesis. Triplett, Ruth.

Abstract: Though recent theorists acknowledge the dual theoretical foundation of the labeling theory, they limit their focus in discussions of the status characteristics hypothesis of labeling to the influence of the conflict perspective, to the relative neglect of symbolic interactionism.

This paper demonstrates the importance of symbolic interactionism to the status characteristics hypothesis in three ways: by demonstrating the limits of the conflict perspective in predicting variations in reaction, especially at the level of informal reaction; by demonstrating the contribution of symbolic interactionism; and by empirically evidence hypotheses derived from the theoretical work concerning the determinants of parents' reactions that label their children delinquent.

The Deviant Mystique : Involvements, Realities, and Regulation
By Robert Prus, Scott Grills. Adopting symbolic interactionism perspective and building extensively on the ethnographic research tradition, this book analyzes the mystique that often accompanies deviance by examining deviant behavior as an ongoing feature of community life.


Attribution and Symbolic Interaction: An Impasse at the Generalized Other - George V. Zito, Jerry Jacobs.
Attribution theory and symbolic interactionism have developed independently of each another, although both are concerned with the processes employed by ordinary people to make sense of their everyday world. The authors seek to define the current impasse, which they see as further confounding the problem of intersubjectivity.


Symbolic Interactionism. Dawn Del Carlo.
Originally conceived of by Herbert Blumer, symbolic interactionism is a theoretical and methodological perspective that seeks to understand the socially constructed meaning behind human behavior and interaction.  Grounded within the tenets of social psychology, symbolic interactionism can be used as a framework to shape educational research in the sciences.  A brief history of symbolic interactionism’s development, a description of its assumptions and methods, and its direct applicability to science education research including examples of published research will be discussed.


Herbert Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method (Prentice-Hall, 1969). Articles dealing with the point of view of symbolic interactionism and with the topic of methodology in the discipline of sociology. Herbert Blumer is a leading figure in the school of symbolic interactionism, and presents what might be regarded as the most authoritative statement of its point of view. Herbert Blumer states that symbolic interactionism rests on the premise: that human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings of things have for them; that the meaning of such things derives from the social interaction; and that these meanings are modified through, an interpretive process.


Ken Plummer, "Symbolic Interactionism in the Twentieth Century," Chap. 8 in B. Turner, ed., Blackwell Companion to Social Theory.