The Theory of Symbolic Interactionism as the Baseline of Connection in Society

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Table of Contents

  • Family
  • Gender
  • Gender Inequality
  • Sexuality

Symbolic interaction theory is a term that refers to the language and symbols a person uses to see how it will make others respond (Griffin, Ledbetter & Sparks 2019). The symbols for this theory uses verbal and non-verbal cues. The theory was developed by social constructionist George Herbert mead. He Believed that our thoughts, self-concept and society were created through symbolic interaction as a whole (Griffin 2019). While there were many people who helped define symbolic interactionism in late 19 century such as George Mead, Williams James, and John Dewey, the most important exponent of the theory was Herbert Blumer. 

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After Mead died, his discipline Herbert Blumer coinced the term in 1937 after he used it in the article, “Man and Society.” He belived that humans create and use symbols and the use of those symbols help us commiucate through voice, launage and body gestures (Bruce 1988). Blumer broke the theory down into three basic premises: human act towards things based on the meaning they give them; The meaning comes from our social interaction with other humans and the way we interpret things is based on what we counter. Without symbolic interaction theory society as we know it would not exist . The goal of this paper is to summarize the current knowledge of symbolic interactionism theory and aim to look at symbolic interaction theory across a multitude of topics because it was hard to find information in just one specific topic. 

I pick this theory because it is one of the most used theories to this day and it is important because there would be no society if as humans we didn’t routinely interact with one another. In this paper, I searched in different UL databases and use keywords such as: symbolic interactionism, society, symbolic interactionism and family. I also used other databases such as, google scholar, Jstor, and Web of Science. Overall, I found 14 articles on symboilic interactionism and the symbolic interactionist perpective. This paper will examine family, adoption, sexuality and gender through a symbolic Interactionist perspective.


Symbolic interaction can be applied to many different situations and human interactions. One situation a symbolic interactionist perspective has been used to understand is families and how they make shared meanings (Flynn 2019).“Symbolic interaction studies how families tend to focus on socialization and roles by examining the process of socialization to learn how values and norms are constructed and transmitted” (Flynn pg. 2). Symbolic interactionist study familes to examine a plthera of topics such as: parenting, divorce and the roles within families.

Parenting is a big part of family and has been used by interactionist to understand how it is constructed through interaction of parents with their children in the society (Totkova 2019). In a study done by Tokova, she examined 35 adults aged 18 to 45 to evaluate how they perceive their parents style of parenting (Totkova 2019). 21 of the participants were women, 14 men and 32 had their own children. She conducted a two-part interview that consisted of 30 questions that addressed topics like time, perception of warmth, parent child relationships, control and social context (Totkova 2019).Before conducting the experiement, she assumed that her results would show that social environment was highly influenced by implementing parenting practices and she was correct (Totkova 2019).The results of the study concluded that the 32 who had children were greatly influenced by the environment. Only three particpants overall gave opposite answers. Also all respondents stated that they were guided by their own views but, do not ignore the deemed accepted values, rules and norms of society. All in all a symbolic interactiontist believe that the connection between the development of a person and how they periceve thier parents style of parenting is improratnt for one’s development (Totkova 2019).The main point of the study revaled that the style of parenting is not essteinal but rather the way the child tnterperates his/her parental behavior and practices (Totkova 2019). So enivormen,t plays a big part in parenting behaviors and raising a child.

Divorce is also a big part of families and many interactiontists have done extensive research on the significance of it in children, adolescents and young adults (College, Collins, Janning & Kamm 2011). They also have done research on how divorce impacts son and daughters and mothers and fathers differently. When parents divorce, it seems to shift the gender roles in families. Research on divorce shows that single mothers and single fathers roles after divorce suggest that the children within these families see a lot of non-traditional gender roles (College 2011). Now instead of having a mom who cooks and cleans and a dad who goes to work, both parents are 100% responsible for the household. In a study done by College, Collins, Janning and Kamm, they examine how young adults experience the presence of absence of traditional gender roles within a divorced family displayed by the use of domestic space and objects (College 2011).They performed an investigation by using 22 in-depth questions with young adults who parents divorced while they were children. 22 adults were interviewed and some of the topics included; living arrangements, visitation schedules, process of switching between homes and parental influence (College 2011). The results showed that in these divorced families young adults describe having traditional gender roles. It also shows that divorce does not cause adolescence to be lacking a traditional view (College 2011).In research, they learned that mothers tend to put more effort into making a house feel homey and cozy after divorce while fathers tend to want to make the house feel fun (College 2011). This research showed that while the children of divorce of parents see many non-trandtional things, that do not lack the tranditional view.

Family roles is also something a symbolic interactionist test to see how families make shared meaning. In a study done by Lawson, he examined the various perceptions of family roles by fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. He surveyed an entire population of 7th, 9th and 12th grade students in public schools and the questionnaire was completed by students, mothers and fathers (Lawson 1974). The data was organized into four groups: siblings units because father nor the mother did the questionnaires, family units with one child, family units with two children and family units with three or more children (Lawson 1974). The results showed that their perceptions of family vary by age and gender. While most families, tend to perceive their family as having strong power patterns, mothers and fathers tend to attribute more power to themselves than their spouses and sons and daughters assign more power to their fathers than thier mothers (Lawson 1974).The responses from the mother and father‘s team develop more of a traditional general expectations.


Many researchers have found symbolic interactionism useful in understanding how people’s gender is constructed through interaction with each other in society. As children develop through life they become aware and develop knowledge of gender roles and expectations. By the age of three, children are aware of gendered type toys and activities that express a strong sense of gender role (Pearson & VanHorn 2004).. As children continue to grow and as they become adolescents and adults, gender identity can change over time. In a study done by Pearson and Van horn, they examined how older people perceive their gender identity over their lifespan. The goals of the study was to find out how the influence of behavior, circumstances and lifespan changes ( Pearson & VanHorn 2004). Also, it explains gender consistency and change. They set up focus groups that consisted of 2 to 5 participants, each lasting from one hour to an hour and a half. Within the focus groups, they surveyed them with two open ended questions on self image and self-esteem ( Pearson & VanHorn 2004). They also surveyed 8 to 10 questions on gender identification and basic demographic information. The results showed that for the two open ended questions about self image and self-esteem. In response to the questions which were phrased as I feel or I am, 58 of the 83 comments received were positive. 10 were neutral and 12 were negative. Response to the questions that they asked them “who they were”, they received 167 answers. 

The biggest number of response recieved dealt with personality like cheerful or ambitious. Most of the answers for this question were either positive or neutral. The second largest response, focused on health like, “getting older” and other responders focused on things like jobs or activities and families (Pearson & VanHorn 2004). They also conducted another study that focused on masculinity and femininity. All of the participants were 65 or older in the study and were asked how they define masculine and femininity (Pearson & VanHirn 2004). The results showed that participants viewed themselves as both masculine and feminine. They do certain things and behaviors to find femininity or masculinity. This study provides an understanding of gender identity as perceived by older adults. It also shows that no human is one- hundred percent masculine nor are they one-hundred percent feminine. Not only have symbolic interactionist used gender idenity to understand physical and emontional behavior but they have also used it to study verbal behavior as well.

In another study done by Drass, it examined the relationships between gender identity and verbal behavior in same sex interactions (Drass 1986). Throughout the study she used the symbolic interactiontist perpective by using a techique deveolped by Burke and Tully. The study measured the gender idenities of 91 college undergraudate students (Drass 1986). 30 were female and 26 were male. The sample of students partucaited in role playing exercises and all of thier covnersations were recored to see when someone overlapped or intterputeed the person speaking ( Drass 1986). The results showed that the more “male like” a person’s gender idenitity (regarless of thier sex) the more likely the person is to interrrupt or overlap a person speaking ( Drass 1986). Overall, the results suppport the interactiontist perpective that idenity is critical when establishing domiance through conversation ( Drass 1986).

Another article that uses the symbolic interaction is perspective to research the gender is an article on the gender gap in delinquent behavior (Bartusch & Matsueda 1996). Symbolic interactionist believe that delinquent behavior is determined by the self. Gender correlates the most to crime and delinquency. According to statistics, males commit 3 to 7 times more crime than females (Bartusch & Matsueda 1996). They also are twice as many delinquent males than females. In a study done by Masueda, he estimated a cross gender model of delinquency by using the data from the national youth service. The results showed that for males and females parental apparel’s have a strong effect on deliquency (Bartusch & Matsueda 1996).He also found some gender differences in the magnitude of effects on delinquency as well.

Gender Inequality

While gender identity has been something study for years so has gender inequality. For decades and centuries males have been given way more opportunities in things like voting, ownership and working etc. Specifically in working, women have been disadvantaged and have not been given as many opportunities as men. In a study done by Bielby and Bielby, example of gender equality in writers for feature films. In the study they hypothesized and test, three models of the labor market to find support for this disadvantage whereby the gender gap‘s earnings grow as men and women grow in their careers (Bielby & Bielby 1996). The data and her study discussed employment and earnings of 4043 screenwriters, men and women, who were employed from 1982 to 1992 (Bielby & Bielby 1996). The results showed that in feature films, female writer gaps earnings overtime grew wider comapred to the mens’s earrings. It also shows that women who do break into the screen writing profession, the longer they work the more earning lag behind male counterparts (Bielby 1996).


Not only does symbolic interaction theory study families and gender but they also study sexuality. More important they study sexual behavior and how many people use it and create meaning (Gecas & Libby 1976). Sexual behavior can be associated with a variety of activities, such as having children, having physical pleasure, having fun, and creating a sense of intimacy (Gecas & Libby 1976). Sexuality is not only something that adults go through but adolescence as well. Adolescent sexual activities and behavior are strongly influenced by biological and physiological factors that are also influenced by family and peers and social cultural factors such as race, religion and media (Werner-Wilson 1998). In a study done by Werner-Wilson, he examined multiple influences on adolescent sexuality (Werner-Wilson 1998). The study was done based on a non-random sample of 1587 high school students and 1302 parents. All ages of the students range from 14 to 19 years of age. (Werner-Wilson 1998).The sample included more females than males and most participants were white. With only 15% identifying as other races. The data collected from surveys done by the adolescence and the questions asked included: demographics, family strength scale, the parent and lessons communication skills etc (Werner-Wilson 1998). The questions to the parents including sexuality education, sexual attitudes and behaviors. They also completed the family strength and parent and lesson communication skills like the highschoolers.The results showed that there were more variations when it came to adolescence attitude about premarital sex sexual intercourse (Werner-Wilson 1998). The results also show that in terms of sexual attitudes and behaviors males were influenced mainly by individual factors and females were influenced more by family factors (Werner-Wilson 1998). These results provide information of how sexual education lessons help students understand sexuality more and also that these programs encouraged more parent participation.

Romantic relationships is a really important part of sexual behavior. Relationships emotional bonding seems to be closely with to sexual aspect (Shaw & Rogge 2017).Although there has been a ton of research, romatic couples have been studied less. In a study done by Shaw and Rogge, they explored the meaning of sexual behavior through the symbolic interaction perspective. They sampled 3000 particpants online. (Shaw & Rogge 2017). They examined them by having them complete a online survey. The particpants were mostly female and white. Since the study surveyed committed romantic relationships, most particpants were dating exclusively and the rest were either married or engaged (Shaw & Rogge 2017). The study also developed a self report assessing positive and negative meaning of sexual behavior within romantic relationships, like “how to bond with a partner” or “how to relieve stress.” The results showed that over the two months of analyzing the meaning of sexual activity, happiness are just as important in shaping a relationship as the frequency (Shaw & Rogge 2017). The results also suggest that many respondents were significantly dissatisfed in their relationships and that the meaning they give to sexual behavior within romanitic relationships vary (Shaw & Rogge 2017). What she learned throughtout the study was that sexual beahvior within a committed relationship can both harm and help it (Shaw & Rogge 2017).

Symbolic interaction is him is the use of language and symbols in anticipation to see how other people were yet. As a society with you symbolic interaction is him every day and without a society as we know it would not exist. This paper reviews many different studies across a multitude of topics such as gender, family and sexuality. The studies that contributed The most to the evolution of this theory, were the ones that discussed gender. The studies on gender shown how symbolic interaction is him study gender I did it in overtime. It showed that no one is 100% feminine and no one is 100% masculine. The results of the studies have been seen more in the world then studies from families and sexualitiy. As the world and society evolves so will the symbolic interactionsim theory. Since as a society, interaction with people face-to-face is decreasing day by day, the theory what evolve to look at society through a online/Internet perspective. The theory will also continue to gain different meanings and there will be more studies done on symbolic interactionism as well. The studies that should be done in the future studies on how society creates shared meanings through all my communication, the symbolic interaction is him perspective on race and how does symbolic interactionism perspective look at interaction through society in 2020. The paper has had many limitations such as not having enough article studies. The paper also should have had more articles that related to each other. There were not many studies that connected to one another. The paper was also limited on what topics were discussed because of the lack of article studies on symbolic interactionism.  

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