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Sociological Theory of Symbolic Interactionism

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 4 (859 words)
Categories: Conflict Theory Sociology, Relationship, Socialization, Sociological Theories
Downloads: 15
Views: 11

Symbolic interactionism is the theory that symbols are the key to understanding how we view the world and communicate with one another (Henslin, 2013). These symbols are what we attach meaning to and include our social lives and relationships. George Herbert Mead is one of the founding sociologists of symbolic interactionism.

Functional Analysis is the central idea that society is a whole unit, made up of interrelated parts that work together, and is rooted in the origins of sociology (Henslin, 2013).

In this theory, two main terms are used: functions, the beneficial consequences of people’s actions, and dysfunctions, the harmful consequences of people’s actions. A key concept of functional analysis is when examining a smaller part of society, it is important to also examine how the functions and dysfunctions of the smaller unit are related to a larger unit. Robert K. Merton played a major role in defining functional analysis.

Conflict theory is another theoretical framework of social life, and represents the theory where society is viewed as composed of groups that are competing for scarce resources (Henslin, 2013).

Karl Marx founded the conflict theory after witnessing the suffering and exploitation and concluded that the key to human history lies in class conflict. Within this conflict, elitist groups use power to control those in weaker groups. The concepts of the conflict theory have modern implications in our society today, in educational structures and the institution of marriage.

Microsociological and macro sociological analysis are the two levels of analysis sociologists use. Macrosociological analysis examines large-scale patterns of society, and microsociological analysis focuses on social interaction (Henslin, 2013). Symbolic interactionism uses microsociological analysis, focusing on the face-to-face interactions between individuals, and how symbols are used by people to create a social life. Functional analysis uses a macrosociological approach, examining large-scale patterns of society and how relationships in society are functional or dysfunctional. The conflict theory also uses a macrosociological approach, examining the large-scale patterns of society and the struggle for resources between groups a society.

Nonmaterial culture is defined as a group’s way of thinking (including its beliefs, values, and other assumptions about the world) and doing (its common patterns of behavior, including language and other forms of interaction) (Henslin, 2013). There are seven main components of non material culture. First, language is the primary way in which people communication with each other and is composed of symbols combined to represent a thought. Gestures, or movements of the body used as a form of communication and non-verbal language. Second, values are a culture’s idea of what is desirable in life and are the standards by which people define components of society. The third component is norms, or the expectations that develop out of the values of a culture. Sanctions are the fourth component of nonmaterial culture and are likely to be symbolic. Approval for a norm is referred to as a positive sanction, and disapproval for breaking a norm is referred to as negative sanction. Any name that is not strictly enforced is known as a folkway, the fifth component of nonmaterial culture.

A culture expects people to abide by a folkway, but if someone does not comply, it is not strictly enforced. The sixth component is mores and is norms that are strictly enforced because they make up an essential core values that may affect the well-being of people in the society. The final component is a taboo, which is a norm that, if violated, is met with revulsion and disgust. Usually, violation of a taboo is judged as unfit and may be ostracized or killed.

Agents of socialization refer to people or groups that affect our self-concept, attitudes, and behaviors, or other orientations toward life (Henslin, 2013). These agents of socialization prepare us for roles in the society, including in the family, in a neighborhood, in a religious group, in school, and in workplaces. In my opinion, the influence of peers during school age children and adolescence as an agent of socialization has great significance in the U.S. today. As a child grows and enters school, the influence family has decreased and the influences of peer groups increase.

A common theme amongst peer groups is to either conform or be rejected, and anyone who rejects the peer group faces becoming an outcast or an outsider. This has a large impact in the preteen and teenage years, as a peer group becomes the focus for many young adults and the standards of the group dominate every aspect of the teen’s life. These standards may be positive or negative. For example, peer groups may encourage risky behaviors such as drinking or crime, and other peer group may place an emphasis on studying and positive activities like sports or music. In adolescence, these peer groups form an individual’s idea of adult society and the dependence on others like parents and adults. The importance of positive, uplifting peer groups has a great impact on how an individual may socialize as they enter adulthood, and therefore has a significant influence in the U.S. society.


Henslin, J. M. (2013). Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education

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Sociological Theory of Symbolic Interactionism. (2019, Aug 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/sociological-theory-of-symbolic-interactionism-essay

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