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Symbolic Interactionism. George Herbert Mead Erving Goffman Arlie Russell-Hochschild. Outline. Principles of Symbolic Interactionism The Chicago School The Ideas of George Herbert Mead Erving Goffman and Dramaturgy Arlie Russell Hochschild on Emotion. Symbolic Interaction Theories.

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symbolic interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism

George Herbert Mead

Erving Goffman

Arlie Russell-Hochschild

  • Principles of Symbolic Interactionism
  • The Chicago School
  • The Ideas of George Herbert Mead
  • Erving Goffman and Dramaturgy
  • Arlie Russell Hochschild on Emotion

Symbolic Interaction Theories

- Symbolic interaction theories focus on the interpretation (social meaning) that is given to behaviour, and on the way such interpretation helps to construct the social world, the identities of people, and, ultimately how they behave.

- All interaction theories are concerned with the way in which meaning is constructed.


Basic Principles

1. Humans have capacity for thought.

2. Thought is shaped by social interaction.

3. Through interaction, people learn symbols and meanings that allow them to think.

4. Meanings and symbols allow for human action.

5. People can interpret a situation and modify their action or interaction.

6. People can create own meanings.

7. Groups and societies are made up of patterns of action and interaction.

the chicago school
The Chicago School
  • Founded 1892 by Albion Small
  • Ideals: Social reform and scientific social research
  • Decline after 1930’s
  • Has regained in popularity, especially in the areas of deviance and the study of women’s roles in society
w i thomas 1863 1947
W.I. Thomas (1863-1947)

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences…”

robert park 1864 1944
Robert Park (1864-1944)
  • Follower of Simmel
  • “urban ecology”
  • Concentric zone theory
charles horton cooley 1864 1929
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)

“The looking glass self”

Identity consists of three elements:

1. How actors imagine they appear.

2. How actors belief others judge their appearance.

3. How actors develop feelings of shame or pride, feelings that become an inner guide to behaviour.

The social self was the cause of social behaviour.


George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)

Main ideas:

The social self is composed of an active “I” that is independent of particular situations and a receptive “Me” that is situated and responsive.

The shape of “Me” is composed of the messages we receive by using others as mirrors of the self.

mead cont
Mead (cont.)
  • Ideas reflected U.S. midwestern values:
    • Democracy
    • Voluntarism
    • Self-discipline
    • Belief in science
    • Reformism
mead intellectual influences
Mead – Intellectual Influences
  • Hegel
  • Behaviourism
  • Philosophical Pragmatism
  • Relativism
development of the social self
Development of the Social Self
  • Society made up of selves who act and interact.
  • Self = subject + object (I + me)
self cont
Self (cont.)
  • 1. The act
  • 2. The social act
  • 3. Gestures, symbols and meaning
  • 4. The “I” and the “Me”
  • 1. Pre-play and preparatory stage
  • 2. Play stage and development of the particular other
  • 3. Game stage and development of the generalized other
erving goffman 1922 1982
Erving Goffman (1922-1982)

Randall Collins: Goffman “contributed the most to intellectual progress” in U.S. sociology

Best Known Works:

Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959)

Asylums (1961)

Stigma (1963)

Interaction Ritual (1967)

Gender Advertisements (1976)

dramaturgical theory
Dramaturgical Theory

Dramaturgical theory makes use of concepts that parallel those of stage performances: roles, props, scenes, etc.

People project images of themselves on the social stage to be seen in particular ways and to achieve particular ends.

the presentation of self in everyday life
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
  • Focus is “impression management”
  • The script that people follow to control how others see them.
  • Motivation: avoidance of shame or embarassment.
  • Front stage vs. back stage
  • Public behaviour is a performance
  • Based on case studies
  • How do people become stigmatized and victims of prejudice?
  • “an undesired differentness from what we had anticipated”
  • 3 types of stigma:
    • Abominations of the body
    • Blemishes of individual character
    • Tribal stigma
importance of goffman s work
Importance of Goffman’s Work
  • Linked individual action to larger social structure
    • Interaction rituals are institutionalized
    • The “frames” that organize behaviour
  • Linked stigmatization to prejudice and to abuse of power and control in society
arlie russell hochschild 1940
Arlie Russell Hochschild (1940- )
  • The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (1983)
    • First sociological study of emotion
  • The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (1989)
  • The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (1997)
emotional labor
Emotional Labor
  • “..the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value. I use the synonymous terms emotion work or emotional management to refer to these same acts done in a private context where they have use value.” (Hochschild, 1983)
characteristics of emotional labour
Characteristics of Emotional Labour
  • 1. worker has face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact with the public
  • 2. as part of the job, worker required to produce an emotional state in another person.
  • 3. employer has the power to exercise a degree of control over the emotional activities of employees.
emotional dissonance
Emotional Dissonance
  • People who do emotional labour suffer from the strain of pretending not to feel what they are really feeling
  • To cope with this, people try to change what they feel or to change what they pretend to feel
importance of hochschild s work
Importance of Hochschild’s Work
  • Theories to this point neglect or downplay the role of emotion
  • Hochschild adds key part of puzzle
  • Also points out that much of emotional work is done by women
  • In our culture, emotion considered irrational and linked to women
importance of symbolic interactionism
Importance of Symbolic Interactionism
  • Adds micro-level perspective to mainstream sociology
  • Adds potential to bridge gap between macro and micro-levels
  • Advances our understanding of sociological processes.