The Interactionism-Symbolics Chronicles
By Haris Mahdiredha Mosa, S.Sos
Similar to many other theories, paradigm, and scientific perspectives, the ground-roots of interactionism-symbolics (most of its explainations; based on reliable source and references) depart from deep-thought of philosophy basics. Interactionism-symbolics were one of among them, and many experts agreed that its theory mentioned as a pragmatic perspective to projecting every kind of social reality that emerge, and all other kinds of phenomena within societies. To answer your question about reason why its theory classified as a pragmatics perspective, this following explaination might help you to understand. The philosophy of pragmatism should required several elementary factors, at least there are four indicators; First, reality within social situation is a result of active process, continues and surely not constant. Reality should be recognized in ‘the real world’, it means (at least) objective reality should visualize and noticeable by each single unit, which were part of the system. Secondly, pragmatics perspective always be assure, that such social pattern, values, social norm, social structure, etc. is applicable and works effectively fulfilling the common needs. Instead of those norms, values, structures, and other social procedures failed on the fulfillment in common requirements; it would be over as a main standard procedure on social life. It would be changed to be other form of social procedure. Third, each social unit is conscious and rational; so that they will actively redefined or reinterpreted of each social reality that emerge to the surface. This process always be driven to personal consideration of beneficial purposes. Fourth, one last pragmatics philosophy indicator is; an actor(s) would be noticed and fully-considered by others instead of actions, activities, etc., within community that he taking part. For instance, an actor(s) are what they have been doing.
MEET Mr. MEAD
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) was the experts; social scientist, behind this brilliant conception (social behaviorism, then known as interactionism-symbolics nowadays). As an expert in social science in early 20th century, progressively Mead tend to describe and look-up social reality with ‘psychological frames’. Nevertheless, at the end of his ‘socioculture-reality readings’ Mead succeeded to correlate his analysis with his basic competence; sociology. As well as a philosopher, based on his thought, Mead classified as a social-realism philosopher. Since pragmatism philosophy divide in two major categories, and each of them were opposition one to another. Social-realism philosophy in pragmatics perspective stood in conception that each individual as an actor is under-influenced by his surroundings. It includes personal consciousness, interactional pattern, behavior of common, values, and all kinds inside each certain community. Each one of it, need a place first before taking an implementation of actions. Lets stressing our attention on word of ‘under-influenced’. It contained precisely clear meaning, that actor(s) ‘under-influenced’ means each one of them were still has optional decisions in-term of social activity they would have made. So that, an actor does improvising, pick those several action options to negotiate with his surroundings. Not in backwards; surroundings insisted what actor(s) to do.
On the other hand, known as nominalist in pragmatics philosophy. Nominalist has different view from perspective in advance, that reality objective (macro aspect in social system) has less influence to each actor(s) instead. Social structure has nothing to do with individual decisions, choices, ideas, and other kinds of subjective factors. This paradigm consider individual as an “extential independent agent“, in term of receive, refuse, modify; to define values, norm, roles and community regulation, all that ‘rules’ purely use as fulfillment tools for personal beneficial through rational planning and anticipation further. This perspective is the extended shape of todays interactionism-symbolics. For a short hint, this improvement held by Blumer; Mead’s student.
Word of behaviorism more common in psychology knowledge. Mead himself, whom brought it to be more broaden than it has. Mead introduce social behaviorism, to explain his mind of society and reality within. There were three major point of behaviorism, and it requires more of your attention actually. First one, behaviorism in psychological side; devided into realism and empirical, and we’re not supposed to talk about this further. Second, social behaviorism; where Mead involved quit significant. This type of behaviorism tells about pattern and process either to individual (actor) in correlation with his ‘social environment’. There are several things to take-a-look deeper; such as individual as an actor, personal interpretation, action, response, interaction, and (certain) community. Each one of them has it power to influence one to another, so we can tell that within each variable is actively interact and influenceable. To give you a better picture about social behaviorism from Mead, following diagram path might be a sufficient explaination.
Actor -----> personal interpretation---->
This picture help you to understand, connections within each variable is dynamic through the continuity process. It held in every social context that require plural roles in term of social interaction. Community as a “social battle-field” emerge through only this process, there is no room for any type of community without interaction such like process above. One major thing that important to recognize, is personal interpretation. Before its action taking part, actor has certain level of capacity and ability to maintaining his action. It means, our action was not a spontaneous response of external. We configure, manage, and anticipate the result of our action up come. This what makes actor(s) has far-away different from other human beings, such as animal for example. This Mead conception, became a trigger of argumentation from the other (earlier) perspective.
Third type of behaviorism paradigm is radical behaviorism, held by Watson. He stand for his conception that analyzing people behaviors should only focusing at behavior instead. He denied of any kind interpretation beneath social interaction. In order individual as well as another human being, has experiences and adequate instinct to measure and overcomes his needs. Watson do believe, between Man and Animal is just similar; there’s nothing significant differences among them. Unless how the way they run their life, and it was all. Now, shall we see table diagram below, to show you differences between this two behaviorism perspective.
Social behaviorism (Meadian)
Radical behaviorism (Watsonian)
1. Relatively more complex, involving cognitive element in personal interpretation instead of social interaction. It means, social interaction is collectivity of interpretation among them whom interact
2. Actor(s) consciousness and rationality is the most important element in behavior that occur
3. Actor(s) is active, creative, and dynamics to decide his action
1. More simple to see behavior in manifest form. What we see is what really happen, without consider any rational factor
2. Behavior is beyond actor(s) consciousness. Rationality is denied as a ground element for any interactional form within community
3. Actor more like a puppet, that any of his action has been arranged. Everything rely on human instinct
We already knew, cross-statement and perspectives, and denial statement among theories and conceptions in science is became a regular basis eversince. Or it might be one of the reason why science is always improving time to time. So do this interactionism-symbolics theory, as far as it’s thought contributes acknowledgement in ‘Chicago school’, conflict of conception over several perspectives are getting loud. Especially, among reductionist (psychology, Freud is one of them) and functional-structural as a major opponent. What are they? How far the dialectic of denials and defendant going? Lets discuss about interactionist opponents.
Reductionist have been through their glory, handled by Sigmund Freud. Anyhow, this psychology perspective also explain about interaction within individuals. Reductionist believe that interaction leave any aspect either macro and micro inside ‘the need fulfillment’. There is no such kind of complex form of process within interaction. We ought to remember about libido and id concept, and this what all measure individual action in term of fulfillment. It clearly explaining that continuity process between actor(s) and their surrounding are never exist. Human, at this context same like animal, tend to fulfill their biological needs based on libido over id existence. In short telling, libido is biologically rules every individual and reality spectrum. By that conception, interactionist like Blumer, consider that reductionist look up for social reality with meaningless thought. Contra flow thinking with interactionism-symbolics theory, reductionist psychology never affirmed social reality emerge by interactional process.
Next one we’ll discuss about functionalism structural theory, one of the toughest interactionism-symbolics opponent. Can you imagine if the way we dress or how we doing our life, entirely managed by structural authority. Individual roles, including improvising our way of living is helpless; because all our living methods are being arranged and adjusted. That’s what functionalism-structural conception upon society. Anykind of individual contributions are discredit. Living procedures were customized in the form of social values, social norms, etc., called ‘social fact’. And any of individual effort is forbid to influence the social fact. Its theory can only running in well-strength structure condition, it means social control, social solidarity, and intimacy among them must be powerful.
As an avant garde, Blumer, strongly denied those point of view to describing each kind of social organization. As we know, he said reductionist is a meaningless thought. Again he continues this perspective way to mechanistic to explain an individual action. As reductionist belief, that each action is depend to personal attitude. Different attitude would result a different action, this concept certainly contra flow in term of subjective interpretation process on people thought in order to execute action he’d take in certain social situation. Subjective interpretation containing clear explain about configure, manage, and anticipate the result of individual action. Anticipating explains about negotiation within actor(s), so exchanging process is clearly running in certain social interaction. Blumer admit, that action is not as simple as attitude (where libido and id is a main ingredients) taking fully control. This denial over denial is a strong evidence in Blumer’s major conflict over psychology-reductionism.
Blumer integrity as a Median pioneer also tested to answer functionalism-structure conception over relation between individual and society. Blumer answered, its way to naive to mention individual behavior is a fully-measurement of external factor (structure). Since Meadian always considered the process of social construction; internal process within subjective interpretation on social reality, has never been admitted by functionalism-structure perspective. Individual in this case has a certain role to measure reality within social reality and social structure. For further complete explaination, writer recommend Ritzer’s Modern Sociological Theory as an adequate reference; page 271.
All the writings above, makes you wonder roots of symbolic interactionism, don’t you? How this perspective so confident and courageous to facing established paradigm in advance. To overcome your curiousity, we should discuss further about Mead elementary perspective. Firstly we ought to recognize him as an important person in social-psychology.
Based on his definition, social psychology is a powerful form of relation between individual (independent) with social system (dependent). Social system contents behavioral procedures held by collectivity of thought, ideas, attitude, etc. At this phase, the emerge of subjective interpretation that actualized in collectivity of actions, taking significant role to measure and to build every kind of social adjustment. Both subjective interpretation and social system require a space, one spectrum of implementation. Then, the answer for space fulfillments of interactional demands; is community. Community is the spectrum; space of emergence, where subjective interpretation could perform in shape of actions, it gathered and reproduce as an adjustment of social systems relatedly impact the development of personal mentality and individual consciousness. Those process visualized how both sides were stood in equal level, either to sending and receiving influence as long as community is remain in existence. That’s how Mead explain about social psychology.
Actions, is one important tool to emerge individuals with their surroundings. In term of action, we need to focusing our attention in stimulus and response concepts. Here’s the key, each form of response is result from action that interpreted in advance (estimate, anticipate, considered, etc.). Otherwise, stimulus is only an efforts and didn’t assure of any escort to certain form of response. Stimulus will only provides form of chance, opportunity, possibility; beyond expectation. Stimulus is not a command, or even insisted order. Action is form of relation between stimulus and response, we knew that already. Now, Mead made conception upon this.
Manifest form of actions always follow this phases :
impulse is a spontaneous stimulation that interconnected to human sense. Stimulation producing needs to respond, in reciprocal form.
To give you a better picture, here is a simple case. When you feel starve, either animal and human spontaneously will respond feeling of starving. What makes different between animal and human is, human will interpreted first, and configure which reaction would be taken then. For example, human might consider when, what, where will be eat. Therefore, human rationally consider, include impacts and consequences that might be shown by his reaction in future. How human considering impact and consequences based on experience in the past as an anticipative step of each kind of reaction taken.
To overcome something, each actor would first identify and reacts based on impulse he received. It doesn’t mean that an actor spontaneously respond the stimuli he felt. In the first place, human will project in their mental imagination (estimate, anticipate, etc.). Someone’s reaction clearly unautomatically coming from external stimuli; otherwise it require certain process of estimation and anticipation that might be occur as a result of following reaction that taken. Human would receive plenty of stimuli from outside, but they have certain capacity to decide which one to consider, and which other to ignore.
Afterwards the impulse mentioned an object that considered, the next phase would be manipulating the object. Manipulating object means taking actions instead of that object. The ability to organizing mentality aspect is one of betterness being a human over animal, instead of other motorics excellence. Especially the ability to organize mentality, it’s a crucial phase as an interval period for actor to make unspontaneous actions. By that interval period actor can arrange his decision to predict and anticipate the response received in form of action making. Interval period become an opportunity for actor to consider his experience in the past that would be pluck in the future. This phase give us a better picture how action is not a human spontaneous reaction by impulse he has received. It explain how contrasly different between human and animal, where psychology reductionist mention backwards.
This point is the phase of actualization or we called it consumation. It’s the time when human fulfill of what his really wants. For analogy, either human and animal might eat mushroom they found. What makes different among them, is the possibility that human pick poisonous mushroom is smaller than animal, and why is that? It’s because human has ability to manipulate the mushroom instead, and to anticipate the implication of consuming it. Animal used to acknowledge everything by trial and errors, which not quit efficient method to follow. Despite of trial and error method is much more risky, human has its certain knowledge by reference, information, and documentation related to anykind of things around them.
That’s were phases of manifest form actions made by Mead. Separation and grouping in numbers above only for simplification of the concepts and make it easy to explain, and to understand afterwards. Numbering doesn’t mean each phase is occurs orderly, each phase could (in many cases) making a dialectic process. Each phases might influence one to another instead certain reality is occur in people’s life. Right at this page, gladly writer presented conceptions, ideas, thought, and definitions of George Herbert Mead. Those conception written above is only the beginning from further ideas from Mead and his interactionism-symbolics theory he found. Following writing we would more to talk about are gestures, significant symbols, mind and self, society, and interactionism-symbolics in the end. See you then. . .
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