Age and Religion

In: Social Issues

Submitted By alice1988
Words 1102
Pages 5
Assess the contributions interactionism has made to or understanding of society.

Being an interpretivist theory, interactionism is “sensitive to the self conscience”, and contrasts dramatically with earlier structural theories such as functionalism and Marxism. Unlike these theories, interactionists believe that individuals are socially self conscious, and construct their social world through meaningful interaction and interpretation, rather than being the passive recipients of external social structures. As such, interactionist theory provides a refreshing explanation of society which overcomes many of the problems of earlier theories. It has made a massive contribution to sociology both on a theoretical and methodological level, although it is important to remember that “interactionism” is not a unified perspective, and actually has many different intellectual strands.

Phenomenology for example, is a branch of interactionism which proposes that “things” have no intrinsic meaning in themselves, and mean only what they are taken to mean by social actors. Extending on this, ethnomethodologists believe that social order is extremely fragile, and only exists because people share “commonsense assumptions” about social life. When these assumptions are challenged however, stability can be undermined, as demonstrated by Garfinkel’s “breaching experiments”, where he got students to behave like lodgers in their own homes, which resulted in responses of confusion and anger. Such theories have been heavily criticised however, as if they are taken to their logical conclusion, there is no such thing as objective truth. Furthermore, Gouldner pours scorn of phenomenology for being preoccupied with trivia.

Symbolic interactionism, the most “mainstream” form of the theory, proposes that to understand society, we must consider the meanings of “symbols” in social interaction,…...

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