Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Symbolic Interactionism

I have been trying to get my head around microsociology. One of the branches, Symbolic Interactionism looks at the interaction between the internal thoughts and emotions (symbols) of a person and his or her social conduct. It breaks away from the mechanistic ideas of Structural Functionalism and Structural Marxism which see people acting according to social norms laid out by the social structures to which they belong. It centers on the idea of “self” continually formed by both social and auto interaction. When we interact with others, before we act we always have a quick ‘conversation’ with ourselves in which we interpret the situation, the possible actions and the possible reactions. When we act, the other person tries to interpret the significance that we are giving to the symbols we are using to communicate (words, actions, movements, etc), analyzes the possible reactions, and our reactions to his or her reactions, and then responds, and we immediately interpret their response and adjust what it is that we are doing.

It claims to recognize the importance of social structures (roles, status, institutions, society) but sees them as an interlaced continuum of interactions

The methodology used analyze the interior course of action is the following:

  1. Look for the interior experience that is behind the conduct.
  2. Understand the values, visions, significations and definitions that the individual applies to the situations in which he or she acts, and to him or herself.
  3. Clarify how the imaginative processes work.
  4. The explication comes from empirical data that emerge from the process through which the individual describes his or her world from within and at the same time defines his or her own objective reality.

It is a flexible exploration, a direct naturalist examination of the social world. It uses direct observation, interviews, listens to conversations, radio, and television and revises life histories, letters and public archives. Instead of definitive concepts, it uses sensibilizing concepts that simply suggest where to orient the search.

Okay ... I can understand the importance of trying to understand the person to person mechanics of how we create and reproduce the social reality in which we live; however if we only focus on day to day interactions of individuals, then power relations, the state, structures of domination, multinationals, poverty and imperialism all disappear into an interior conversation we have with ourselves based upon our valuations and interpretations of the symbols that others communicate to us. It just feels empty …

International politics: an interior conversation with myself, or an external social structure?


HV said...

I entirely agree. It's a fancy form of methodological individualism. If you start with individual people as the unit of analysis, you immediately adopt a bourgeois point of view, assuming we're all radically separate from each other. Whereas if you start with Marxist social relations (which I prefer to structures), individuals are only constituted through their membership in relations of power, exploitation and oppression: class, race, gender, etc.

I like your graphic!

Sontín said...

Thank you,

I like the picture too ... it was much more satisfying than the short review paper I had to write.

I do think that micro level analysis has a place within an overall understanding of social realities that goes from social relations, structures (I like structures as a synchronic understanding of diachronic processes) down to group and individual actions and interactions.

When it is outside this framework it just feels empty and of little use for understanding what I find important to understand.