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Interactionist Theory

Associated with Mead, Dewey, Blumer, and other sociology theorists, symbolic interactionism or labeling theory "emphasizes that humans invest the world with meaning, meanings that evolve through interaction and are continuously interpreted and reinterpreted" (Coleman 2003, 181). In other words, the world of meaning and society is created by us through our interactions with others. For example, in societies where cars exist, people understand the meaning of a red light or that it is risky to cross the street when the light is green, while those from societies without cars would not understand their meaning. Collectively, society is a product of our capacity to think and express our thoughts through symbols. Our culture, our society, and our "self" is a product of our own mind. Cultures develop through shared sets of symbols or labels that provide meaning for their inhabitants. Without such a shared sense of meaning, it would be difficult and virtually impossible to interact with others.

Within the interactionist perspective, those who interact do so by adopting roles that equate to labels and are associated with certain expectations and meanings. Examples of such would be young-old, male-female, employer-employee, teacher-student, husband-wife and a variety of others. Each of these categories or labels has a predetermined meaning to the individual, like a little code or storehouse of information in the mind that shapes behavior when interacting in one or the other role. For instance, when interacting with a police officer we are likely to have a heightened respect in our actions because of knowing he or she has the power to arrest us. This behavior and the meaning projected onto a police officer is a common one in U.S. culture. In the interactionist perspective, such common cultural meanings form the foundation of meaningful social interaction. Such symbolic interaction or labels in interactions can h


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Interactionist Theory. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:24, October 24, 2014, from