Description of the theory
A theory is an ideology or system of ideas developed by an individual to explain a phenomenon. Symbolic interaction theory was established by sociologist known as George Herbert Mead, who up to date is considered one of the great sociologists on earth. This theory states that symbolic interaction is the process of the interaction information of meanings for individuals. He says that people tend to behave in a particular manner or act to a situation based on the symbolic meaning they relate to a situation. Meanings and symbols allow individual to carry out the distinctively human action (Herman 2003). The reason for people to interact is to establish a common meaning. Mead explained his theory based on three principles: meaning, language and thought. The way human beings behave is facilitated by the meaning they create in their interaction. ”The meaning that we assign to the statement is how we react to people and what they say”. Said Mead. The principle of Language states that ‘When we talk to each other, symbolic interaction means that humans identify meaning or naming and they develop discourse, which is communicated orally’. This means that the language we use can affect how an individual will act for instance, a child whose characters are righteous is likely to be named after a character in the bible which defines him/her giving the name a meaning. Thought depends on the interpretation we give to a symbol. The language we use affects our thought-when someone says something it triggers thinking process and what we think before acting is our thought. It is an individual’s meaning of something that is put into words.
Background of George Herbert Mead
The founder of the idea of Symbolic interaction theory was George Mead. After his death, his idea or theory was developed by his student Herbert Blumer and coined ‘Symbolic Interaction Theory. George was born on 27th April in 1963. He was an American philosopher, sociologist and psychologist. He is one of the founders of Social psychology and also famous of psychological theories of mind, self and society. In 1887 studied philosophy and psychology at Harvard University and after attaining a Bachelor of Arts moved to Leipzig in Germany to study with psychologist Wilhelm Wundt where he learnt the concept of ‘gesture’ which eventually was central to his later work. In 1891 married, 1894 went to Chicago to teach until his death in 1931.While in Chicago he participated in the social and political work. Mead died of heart failure and he believed that science could be used to deal with social problems. (Blumer&Morrione 2004)
Application of the theory to communication acts
Communication means exchanging information (sending and receiving) through gestures, speaking, and writing, using symbols with an intention to create and interpret meaning to a situation or environment. In the classification of theories as established by Robert Craig 1999 Symbolic interaction theory can be categorized under socio-psychological which perceives communication an interaction cause- effect model. Meaning an individual’s behavior or action is due to a cause which, according to Mead, it is because of either the language we use, the meaning attached to a symbol or other the thought given to the symbol that affects interaction and communication in the long run. How we interpret a situation depends on the meaning we extract from the situation, language used and thought given.
Theoretical critique/judging and testing theory
The scope of this theory is broad it does not limit communication and behavior of human being to a specify situation, but views language, thought and meaning to be affecting communication and behavior of all human beings in any given environment. The theory has been developed since its foundation; fifteen varieties of symbolic interaction have been identified since then by: Melter&petras, Washay, Manford amongst other (Herman 2003). The theory makes sense, for example, Mead says that thought affects communication which makes sense-when an individual thinks that something is good he/she embraces it and that in turn affects how he/she communicates to people on the same basis. The explanation Mead gives to theory is simple, clear and understandable-he went ahead and elaborated the theory using principles. Mead’s theory is practical because it can be experimented in any given situation, environment, any individual and the results are likely to similar. Having the concept of communication based on this theory, it is possible to modify behavior, that is, one can change the meaning, language and thought to affect a behavior. The theory can be termed effective because it triggered the beginning of further research and this can be justified because after the foundation of the theory fifteen varieties of symbolic interactions were identified. (Welch, Benito&Peterse 2007)
Like many theories symbolic interaction theory has been criticized. It does not state whether or not an individual wants to win and get their own way. The theory does not state how to identify if the thinking of an individual is because it is influenced someone or it is due to how the individual feels. According to me, the theory has ignored the cultural differences. Same symbols may have completely different meaning to different community, hence different behavior and communication.
Herman, N. J. (2003). Symbolic interaction: An introduction to social psychology. Walnut Creek,
Blumer, H., & Morrione, T. J. (2004). George Herbert Mead and human conduct. Walnut Creek,
Welch, L. S., Benito, G. R. G., & Petersen, B. (2007). Foreign operation methods: Theory,
analysis, strategy. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.