Symbolic interactionism is a major theoretical framework of sociology. It relies on the symbolic meanings that people develop and interpret throughout their social interactions. These interpretations are built and rebuilt throughout people’s lives and dictate how people interact with the world.
The origins of symbolic interactionism lie with Max Weber’s assertion that individuals act according to the interpretation of the meaning of their world. George Herbert Mead actually coined the concept in the 1920s.(1)
Symbolic interactionism analyzes society by addressing subjective meanings that people impose on their worlds. People behave based on these meanings and what they believe, not just on what is objectively true.
Symbolic interactionists visualize society as constructed through human interpretation. Major components of this framework include the W. I Thomas’ ‘definition of the situation,’ which is a sort of collective agreement between people on the characteristics of situations and how to react to them. Human agency, interactive determination and symbolization are also important concepts.
Criticisms of this framework include that it neglects the macro-level orientation necessary for understanding the big picture. Symbolic interactionists may also over exaggerate the influence that social forces have on individual interactions.