Lecture: Interactionism

Competing Paradigms: Interactionism

A Micro-Level Paradigm
Another type of theoretical perspective emerged later in the development of the discipline. George Herbert Mead was the intellectual force behind a perspective that is knows as Symbolic interactionism.
It differs from the previous perspectives in several ways, but most importantly it focuses on the micro-level of analysis.

1. Basic Assumptions
a. We know things by their meanings
b. Meanings are created through social interaction
c. Meanings change through interaction

2. Structure of the argument
a. What is the individual level phenomena to be explained?
b. What types of meanings are conveyed, or emerge, in the process of interaction?
c. How does behavior generate from the actors definition of the situation?

3. Example: Harry Gracey - Kindergarten Bootcamp
a. What is the individual-level phenomenon to be explained?
How do children learn the "student role" (i.e. the attitudes and behaviors that are appropriate to being a student)?
b. What types of meanings are conveyed in the interaction?
Through various activities (such as "show and tell") students learn that they must speak when spoken to, request permission to talk by raising their hand, and to acknowledge the teacher's ideas as superior.
Because teachers consistently quiet talkative students and give approval for conforming behaviors, students learn to follow orders with unquestioning obedience.
c. How does behavior generate from the actor's definition of the situation?
The result is three types of students:
1) "good" students who submit to school-imposed discipline and come to identify with it
2) "adequate" students who submit to the school's discipline but do not identify with it
3) "bad" students who refuse to submit to school routines (the problem child)

4. Criticisms of symbolic interactionism
a. It fails to consider structural factors.
b. Too individually based

Return to Research Methods Home