Symbolic interactionism offers a number of insights into human interactions and how individuals interpret and attach meaning to symbols and interactions, which in turn influence their behavior and the self concept. Further, symbolic interactionism provides important theoretical guidelines to family studies, as it encourages the view that the family provides a basis in terms of symbols, upon which humans develop roles and interact. Understanding the symbols used by a family is, therefore, key when it comes to understanding how members of a family behave and interact. The theory provides explanations as to how meanings are developed, the role that language plays in the development of meaning, in terms of the unique ability humans have when it comes to naming things and how the ability to think influences the interpretation of symbols and interactions. Major concepts within this paradigm are, therefore, that human beings usually act towards, things or even others, on the basis of meanings they may have formulated about these things or people. These meanings vary, and it is this variation that brings about different behaviors, as behavior is hinged on the definitions and meanings attached to the object or person. The second major concept is that meaning comes about as a result of social interaction, as individuals are born without any inherent meanings or definitions about anything. However, the meanings one develops may be altered by their understanding or interpretations, which then determine as well as guide any responses that might arise (Dillon, 2010).
Dillon (2010) proceeds to cite Mead (1934), who posits that in the process of interacting with others influences the development of the self, even after the interaction is over. According to Mead, individuals engage in conversations with the self in an attempt to evaluate any interactions that might have taken place, as well as prepare for future interactions. During this process, the individual internalizes attitudes those they are interacting with may have towards him or her and reacts or responds to them. It is this process of internalizing and responding that brings about the concept of the self. The internalization process is influenced by preexisting definitions and understanding, based on how the individual has been socialized to interact with others, use and interpret language. Inglis, & Thorpe (2012), highlight the importance of language as well as signification, when it comes to the formation of the self concept, as they form the basis for the interpretation process. Further, the author disputes arguments that social reality is static, arguing that it comes about as a result of social interaction that is both recurrent and patterned, assertions that are consistent with those of Shrauger, Sidney, Schoeneman, and Thomas (1979).
Clearly, the ability to think is what creates the situation of varying understanding, such that the interpretations and understanding may vary depending on the individual’s self dialogue. An individual will therefore engage in tailored behavior that is acceptable to those around him, depending his or her internalization of their attitudes towards him. Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Pfaff, and Kirk (2012), cite the work of Mead, and highlight two aspects Mead identifies as important in the formation of the self. According to Mead, the fact that the individual does not allow his environment to dictate and influence his behavior, as well as the fact that humans are therefore able to extricate individual objects and give them meaning independent of their surroundings
Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Pfaff, S., & Indermohan V. (eds.). (2012). Contemporary
Sociological Theory. Wiley-Blackwell.
Dillon, M. (2010). Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their
Applicability to the Twenty-First Century.Wiley-Blackwell
Inglis, D., & Thorpe, C. (2012). An Invitation to Social Theory. Wiley-Blackwell