FINAL PAPER: CHAPTER 8 REVIEW
The chapter begins by examining the relevance of symbolic interactionism, not only for deepening personal understanding of social life but also for improving social policy. It then moves on to consider how interactionism has moved beyond its early focus of interpersonal observations, particularly by broadening its scope to include analysis of mesostructure and organizational life. It concluded by discussing some of the new voices that have gained influence in interactionism during the past decades including feminist, neo-Marxist, and postmodernist perspectives.
Interactionism can be beneficial in at least two important ways, it can enhance your understanding of the nature and consequences of (1) your personal “agency” and (2) your joint activity with others. Interactionism differs from other sociological approaches because it emphasizes that people have the capacity for agency, or freedom, as they act toward situations and respond to their demands. Interactionism, however, does not talk about freedom in a language of “individual choices” that separate these choices from the larger society or social structures in which they occur. Rather , interactionism recognizes that freedom is always linked with social structiure and constraint. You make choices, but these choices are always conditioned by your social experiences and relationships, and they are made within situations characterized by various forms of social control. In this way interactionism has merit in that it can help you recognize that often you so not exercise as much agency, or freedom, in decision making as you might think. However, interactionism also helps you remember that your choices and actions are not fully dictated by cultural expectations or the reactions of others. Interactionism emphasizes that because to think and use symbols, you have an important element of freedom as you form your behavior. In analyzing joint action interactionism offers a double vision: it recognizes that (1) we are all individuals and (2) we are all stand-ins, or representatives, of groups, classes, and other social categories. Interactionism is relevant because it calls for you to be conscious not only of how your actions are influenced by others but also of how you influence them. It also has personal relevance for you in that it can help you gain a deeper understanding of how your “choices” and actions are influenced by your social interactions, and vice versa. In the process, interactionism can offer you helpful insights into yourself, your relationships, and the larger world.
Symbolic interactionism adresses a variety of issues that extend beyond traditional social psychological topics including discussions of how institutions and organizations operate by creating meaning and structuring interaction. In the past two decades interactionists have more self-consciously addressed macro-sociological issues through the concept of mesostructure, an intermediate level of analysis between social psychology and organizational theory. In their analyses of mesostructure, interactionists focus on how the rules of an organization are determined by individuals and groups in particular social roles and how they then become negotiated. In examining mesostrcuture, interactionists also highlight the impact of power relations and social constraints on organizational rules and behaviors. In recent years, interactionists have used mesostructural analysis to study a wide variety of organizations, including churches, court systems, the mass media, the arts, welfare agencies, scientific groups, health care agencies, athletic teams, educational institutions, and even civilizations.
Recently, interactionists have become increasingly ware of the concerns they share with feminist theorists. Both interactionists and feminists think of gender as a set of social meanings, relationships, and practices through which sex differences are made salient. Both feminists and interactionists focus on how we learn and perform gender roles and identities and how we reproduce the reality of gender through cultural beliefs, social arrangements, and interpersonal relationships. Moreover, feminist interactionists have studied the sexual politics that characterize organizational life, family relationships, school-based interactions, media advertisements, and a wide range of face-to-face communications.
Neo-Marxist scholars rarely identify with the interactionist perspective, primarily because they see it as a liberal rather than a radical approach. Following Karl Marx, these scholars believe that the central reason for doing social theory and research is not merely to understand the world but to change it, particularly in ways that promote justice and liberation. However, some interactionists have incorporated neo-Marxist ideas into their analyses developing a critical interactionist approach to social life. Some scholars have also blended interactionism with Marxist analysis through what they call critical dramaturgy, an approach that draws on Erving Goffman’s frame analysis. The strength of frame analysis in examining social movements lies in its view of people as active agents who redefine and change the social conditions in which they live.
Over the past two decades, the most significant challenges to mainstream interactionism have been posed by postmodern theorists. These analysts emphasize that we live in a new and profoundly different world, characterized by rapid social changes that give us the sense that the world is constantly in a state of flux. Postmodern interactionists seek to make sense of this unique historical and social situation. In doing so they use an approach they refer to as interpretive interactionism-an approach that draws on feminist, neo-Marxist, and other critical perspectives. In addition, postmodernists embrace interactionism’s emphasis on interpretive and qualitative research. While postmodern theory offers promising insights to interactionism, a number of traditional interactionists see it as a fundamentally flawed approach. According to these scholars, postmodern interactionism has many failings, including being unscientific, being ignorant of the reality of the world, and having an overly political and moralistic agenda.