What is Symblic-Interaction Theory?

Symbolic-Interaction Perspective

Established 1891 at Hyde Park, Chicago. Line engraving, c1900.

While both Conflict theory and Functionalist theory are applied to the macro level, some theories in Sociology are for the micro-level or the intrapersonal basis. One of the more prominent micro-level theories is Symbolic Interaction theory. In the Symbolic-Interaction perspective, society is created through the shared meanings we create and these creations bind us together, an example being when someone yells, “touchdown,” the majority of us will think some football player scored a goal. Now, this may not seem like an avenue of societal creation, but the meaning behind the word “touchdown” is. We all know that the meaning of the word is not literal touching down on the ground, rather it is the celebration of a football player scoring a point for their respective team. Although this is a long example, the point is that meaning is not inherent or necessary literal, it emerges from interaction with others and the meaning can be modified. Within this perspective, the subjective meanings of symbols and phrases are just as important as the objective ones. Hence, the individual not only shapes their own part of society they also develop their own their own symbols and meanings, but not only does the individual get to create, the individual also must assign the meanings and symbols created. A more personal example of this is Indian time, the Western view of this concept at its very base level is sheer laziness, however, there is a much more spiritual meaning to it. Indian time is not necessarily a set amount of time to do a task, but instead while doing the task the ancestors and spirits guide the Native individual in their task, and if the spirits and ancestors willing the task might get done today, and if the task is not finished it is held in the same regard as if it were finished. Another long example, but the points to pull from this is one of two things. Firstly is the symbol Indian time, this was created to explain an event of how long it takes a Native to complete a task.  The second part is the meanings of the symbol, which both symbols diverge into to separate ways of explaining the concept. In a nutshell, this is Symbolic-Interaction theory.

Symbolic-Interaction Theory and Censorship

Now while Symbolic-Interaction theory cannot explain at a macro-level why books are censored, it can look at why and how it may affect the individual. In this perspective, instead of examing the work itself, the ideas and meanings conveyed by the piece. Let’s look at Catcher in the Rye, the book is littered with symbols several of which are indeed frightening to Cold War America. Firstly, is the actions taken by the protagonist, Holden Caulfield; to many of the adults in Cold War America, this is open rebellion is the antithesis of the symbols developed into the American Dream. The deception, drunkenness, hiring of a prostitute, no wonder the book was banned all of these acts are symbols of rebellion to the “Golden Age America” ideals that had been constituted in the late 1950s. America had just come out of an economic depression and won both fronts of World War II, the economy was booming spirits and morale was at an all-time high. The baby boomers were being brought up on mana of the American Dream. However, the symbol of rebellion, presented in Catcher in the Rye undermines what had been agreed upon that is society, and while this may not be the intent of J.D. Salinger, the meaning behind the book is subjective and thus changed. In Oklahoma, a Tulsa teacher had a very different view, and saw it as an awe inspiring peice of literature, and saw the symbols and meanings presened in a postive regard compared to the parents who only saw it in a negative light.

Barkan, Steve. Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World. Cengage, 2014.

Mooney, Linda A., et al. Understanding Social Problems. Cengage Learning, 2007.

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. – Established 1891 at Hyde Park, Chicago. Line engraving, c1900.. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.