Symbolic Interaction Essay, Research Paper
Human beings have the ability to communicate, understand, and interact with each other in a way that no other life forms can. Certain hand gestures, voice tones, and facial expressions let the other person or persons know how we are feeling and what we mean. Because we have the capacity to interpret and comprehend such action and words, it makes for an easier conversation without much confusion. Socialization plays a major part in our interpreting people s intentions; we learn from our past experiences, and this background knowledge helps us to make sense of the conversation.
George Herbert Mead, who first developed Symbolic Interaction, described it as social behaviorism ; this implied that human interaction involves the stimulus, the interpretation of the stimulus, and the response to the stimulus (Layder, 59). Mead understands that human interaction is more complex than in animals; it s not scripted or determined in advance. The response depends on the situation and the relationship of the person to whom you are responding (Layder, 59). Language is a crucial part of communication, because we use it share common understandings and meanings. Through language we communicate are intentions prior to acting, and we can view things from the standpoint of others. According to symbolic interactionism, the perception of self is internal to the human being; it derives from experience and is created through interaction with other people. Perceiving the way we look from the other person s point of view changes our behavior. Although this perception is constantly changing and unclear, it directs our behavior towards keeping a desirable image. Blumer later developed this idea of symbolic interaction and stressed the importance of meaning; he uses three premises to explain this.
First, he says, that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings those things have for them (Layder, 61). In terms of my McDonald s experience these things are the manager s ID, the uniforms that the employees wear, the isle I have to walk through to get to the register, the different sizes of the value meal, my carry-out bag, my money, my no onions preference, and even the steps in ordering the meal. So when I notice that the lady waiting on me was the manager, I acted differently towards her as opposed to if she were just a regular employee. This is because I understand that managers have more knowledge of what they re doing and more experience, and so I know that usually I won t have a problem with them. As for the different sizes of the value meals, I act on the basis of how hungry I am. Even the expression I show when I tell her that I don t want onions implies that I don t like them. The meaning of the bag that she puts my food in symbolizes that I am taking my food to go rather than eating it there.
The second premise states that meaning arises out of social interaction itself, and not the meaning contained in the object (Layder, 61). The elements of the persons minds that form meaning are based on their sensesory and attitudinal information that they bring to the situation. Actions of others are influential in the formation of meaning for an individual in regard to a specific object. For instance, when I smiled after I said, Just salt please! she could have taken it to mean that I really like salt. She could have also taken as a thank you smile; this could mean thank you for the salt, or just thank you for the service in general. Now, maybe to her, giving something to someone means that she will get a smile back, or good service makes people happy.
In the third, the meaning is interpreted; it calls upon the application of previously established meanings in a similar situation, and through internalization the person has an appropriate response to the situation. Take for instance the greeting I received at the counter, Welcome to McDonald s; may I help you . Through internalizing this statement and drawing on previous situations, I know that she means she wants my order; I interpreted it to mean this, instead of thinking that she was asking me if I needed help with a problem. By telling the lady that I m taking the food to go, she internalizes the situation and interprets it to mean that I will need a bag rather than a tray.
Blumer says that society is forever changing because of social interaction; society is individuals interacting and interlinking their actions, and this is possible through joint action . The term joint is meant to convey not only those forms of activity involving two or more co-operating individuals who common aims and values, but also forms of joint activity which involve the pursuit of diverging and conflicting objectives (Layder, 68). For example, the manager and I (the customer) are engaged in a conversation but not for the same reason. Her objective is to work and make money, and mine is to get food and satisfy my hunger. In addition, our smiling and exchanging objects is an example of interlinking our activity. Also, the idea of career is involved in joint action. In this sense our stages of the conversation is leading to an end point or goal, getting my food.
Background knowledge is one of the most important parts to a conversations; it is obtained through past experiences, and socialization in every day life. We all have the same basic common-sense knowledge, but know we all know different things because we all deal with different things. Schutz believes that There is a core of commonsense knowledge that binds the everyday world together and allows us to understand each other. Through typification we construct a shared world on a face-to-face basis, as well as with other groups which are more removed from our sphere of influence (Layder, 76). So, the cashier and me share some of the same commonsense knowledge: the concept of money, what a #2 means, what salt and ketchup is, etc., but because day-to-day activity is different from mine, she has knowledge of things that I don t and vice versa. For instance, she s the manager of a McDonald s so she knows how things should be ran at McDonalds, but I don t. Her experience as a manager and employee at McDonald s helps her to deal with all different types of customers in the future; she knows now what can do and cannot do, or say and cannot say. Because I had a bad experience with onions, I know to get my sandwich without them, but she didn t know that because she didn t experience that.
The proper focus of everyday life and social order is commonsense knowledge and the unstated rules and assumptions which people draw to make their own actions understandable to themselves and to other people (Layder, 82). She drew on the assumption that people like salt and ketchup on there fries, so asking me made sense to her; she thought that it was an appropriate question. Garfinkel s ideas emphasize the importance of taken-for-granted knowledge (Layder, 83). Even the expression OK is commonsense to most people, and they understand it to mean alright .
Communication is the most important part of human life. We take for granted all the elements involved in this type of interaction. Even in the fast-food industry, for instance, you wouldn t think of it but all the elements of symbolic interaction are present. Of coarse it is more noticeable if you order your food from inside rather than go through the drive through; this way there is face-to-face interaction, and you can see all of the physical elements involved. Most people don t pay attention to these small details, but it s mostly because that they re so commonly used that we don t even think about it.