Herbert Blumer – Symbolic Interactionism Explained & Quotes


Symbolic interactionism is a sociological theory of human behavior that focuses on individuals’ meanings in social interactions. This post will introduce you to Herbert Blumer, explain his symbolic interactionism theory, and provide some quotes from the man himself. However, in case you wish to skip article due to reasons such as a busy schedule or otherwise, our professional writers are ready to cover you by acing that sociology assignment for you. All you have to do is place an order.

Herbert Blumer was a symbolic interactionist who developed this theory in 1969. His work has influenced many scholars, including Erving Goffman, who studied how we behave when interacting with other people.

Blumer’s most famous contribution to sociology is his idea that we must look at society through an individual’s eyes rather than expecting them to conform to our understanding of it. He also emphasizes how language shapes what each person thinks and does because they use symbols (words)

Who was Herbert Blumer?

The interactionist was born in Pennsylvania on June 27th, 1902. He attended Temple University, but his education was interrupted by the First World War. After completing his degree, he became an instructor at the University of Texas and then at Iowa State College in 1925.

Blumer was a founding member and president of the American Sociological Association and established the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. He received an honorary doctorate from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1968 and then again in 1970 from Northern Illinois University. Others have widely recognized Blumer in sociology, and he was awarded the Distinguished Career Award from the ASA in 1972.

Herbert is credited with developing the sociological perspective of symbolic interaction theory.

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What is George Herbert Mead Symbolic Interaction Theory?

George believed that we are born into this world as an empty slate, and our identities develop through social interactions with others. He stated, “Human conduct is best understood by considering that it rests upon the working out of interpretations of symbols.”

The social interactionist believed that all human beings are unique, and each individual creates their own identity. He also stated that people learn how to behave from imitation, interaction, custom, habit, and experience.

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How Does George Blumer Explain Symbolic Interactionism?

There are four main components of symbolic interactionism, according to Blumer:

The first is that we act toward things based on the meanings that we attribute to them. We don’t see things as they are, but rather how we think about them.

For example, if you hear a loud noise outside your home, you might be scared initially because it isn’t something you usually expect to hear. However, after you realize that it was a truck backfiring, you may not be afraid anymore.

The second is that we learn to do things by watching other people who are adults or close in age to us. This process of learning from others (known as observational learning), combined with our interpretation and understanding, leads to the third element of symbolic interactionism.

This is empathy, which is the ability to understand how someone else experiences the world.

The fourth element of symbolic interactionism is that we have an unconscious awareness of our social surroundings and other people’s feelings due to what Freud described as the “superego” or “conscience.” Instead of being taught directly what is right and wrong, we must discover for ourselves.

For instance, if you want to go out with your friends on a weeknight but are told by your parents that it can’t happen because they have other plans, you may feel guilty or feel like doing something terrible is wrong. Their reaction would be an example of the superego, and you may think that it is wrong to disobey or even try to get out of their decision.

What is the Nature of Society According to George Blumer?

Blumer believed that society is a collection of individuals and their interactions with one another. The actions, opinions, and point-of-views of one person often affect other people in different ways. In turn, these other people might also affect other people who are interacting with them.

For example, if you were to ask your friend for their opinion about something they saw or experienced, then the answer you receive might influence how you feel. If both of you are involved in a discussion, and neither person wants to admit that they are wrong or can’t agree on something, the exchange will likely end in some argument. This can very easily influence other people as well.

Blumer, as a social interactionist, also believed that society is made up of many groups. These social groups take on the form of families, communities, and workplaces, among others. If you are a member of more than one group, it can be challenging to balance your time with each group and meet everyone’s expectations. How do you decide who gets priority?

Symbolic interactionism has been applied to many areas of study, such as communication studies, sociology, social psychology, and anthropology. As a result of its popularity, many people have expanded on Blumer’s original ideas. For example, his theory is sometimes referred to as neo-symbolic interactionism due to other theorists such as Anselm Strauss.

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What Are Blumer’s Three Basic Principles of Symbolic Interactionism?

The symbolic interactionist three basic principles of symbolic interactionism include:

1. Collective Behavior is not a direct consequence of the properties of individuals or mobs, but rather a function of the behavior of individuals in their social groups (e.g., informal and formal associations).

2. The individual is considered apart from any biological or psychologistic theories. The individual is seen as neither a rational nor irrational being but an active participant in the sociocultural process.

3. A social action is a response. It can be words, gestures, or just something that someone does. It’s not just reacting to the object. You must also think about what it means and how you interpret that meaning before acting.

Symbolic Interactionism-By Blumer Herbert

What Did Blumer Herbert Believe about Symbolic Interaction Theory?

Blumer, as a symbolic interactionist, believed that there are three components to social interaction. He said that individuals’ first actions do not happen in a vacuum, directly affecting others.

Second, the meaning of those actions or symbols can vary depending on who is receiving them and what purpose they give to them.

Finally, these meanings are derived from social actors and how they are shaped by the society in which they live. The interactionist also believed that you have to be aware of others when communicating, and it is not just a one-way process from sender to receiver (Mead).

Blumer also believed that society has multiple systems, and often one can interfere with the other, which leads to conflict. For instance, if you are in a business meeting for work, it is probably essential for you to be on time, but your family needs will prioritize if there is an emergency at home.

This would cause conflict because if people within the business do not understand this, they may lose their job.

What Theory Was Herbert Blumer Famous For?

Blumer Herbert was known for his work as an interactionist. He brought this theory to the forefront of sociological study and made many contributions to our understanding of human behavior and society through it. 

Its main principle is that individuals learn their roles through interaction with others and the society in which they live. One thing to note about this theory is that it considers social actions as reactions or responses to signs, but at the same time, actors’ actions are seen as subjective and based on interpretation (Blumer).

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What is Symbolic Interactionism Theory in Sociology?

Symbolic interaction can be summed up as the study of human behavior in terms of meanings. The idea is that humans do not just act upon their environment, but they also interpret their environment and then respond to it.

This theory is helpful because it can be used to explain why people behave in specific ways. It also shows how environmental factors influence human behavior and how human behavior can affect the environment (Wikipedia).

Symbolic interaction theory studies verbal communication and body language and even actions with no words attached to them (e.g., a person nodding their head, crossing their arms).

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What is Symbolic Interactionism in Research?

In research, symbolic interactionism studies how people behave in social interactions; and interpret what others mean when they act. It looks at verbal communication and body language, and even actions with no words attached to them (e.g., a person nodding their head, crossing their arms).

This theory encourages researchers to look at both verbal and nonverbal meanings to understand human social life better.

An example of this would be the nursery rhyme, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” This song is more than just about a spider building its web; it’s about repetition and symbolic meaning. When you see spiders build their webs, it is a common sight. Most people don’t think twice about the song other than to sing along with it or even find it annoying.

However, if an adult heard the song and started wondering why anyone would want to listen to it repeatedly and looked deeper into its meaning, they may be able to find something more to the song. For instance, they may learn that it was used as a way for parents to soothe their babies and children when they were younger.

The adults then learned this song from other children or even their own family, and now sing it with their children to help them sleep. In this instance, the song attached a specific meaning to the spider’s web building. 

Instead of just having an appreciation for nature, there was an additional deeper meaning behind the song. Another example is the movie “Field of Dreams.” In this movie, “If you build it, they will come” is more than just dialogue, but symbolic poetry in motion.

The person who said this in the movie was talking about bringing life back to a baseball field. In the context of the environment it was used in, this phrasing conveyed the deeper meaning of how others saw him and his self-image.

What is the Premise of the Theory of Symbolic Interactionism?

The premise of symbolic interactionism is that people act toward things based on the meanings that they have for them. Meaning is derived from social actors and how we are shaped by society (Blumer).

Who Were the Major Contributors of Symbolic Interactionism?

Many people contributed to Blumer’s theory as a theoretical perspective. One of the essential contributors was Herbert Mead, whose work influenced interactionism greatly. Another influential contributor was Charles Cooley.  

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How Does Blumer Define the Relationship Between Symbolic Interactionism and Social Methodology?

In the article “Social Psychology as a Science: A Methodologist’s View,” Blumer defines the relationship between S. interaction and social methodology.

He writes that “By ‘social methodology’ we mean research which is directed toward understanding those signs which are communicated to others, and signs of self, in terms of their usage in human conduct.

As human conduct is social, the such methodology must be expected to have as its subject matter an understanding of those signs used in the social interpretation of situations and relationships.

This is what we mean by ‘symbolic interactionism.’ It arises where sociology has been pressed into service by the investigator: it occurs on the boundary between empiricism and phenomenology.”

What Are Some of the Criticisms of Blumer’s Theory?

In “Culture and Social Systems,” the social interactionists list several criticisms of symbolic interactionism. He points out that some people criticize it for being too subjective and not having enough explanatory power. 

How Do You Interpret Symbolic Interactionism?

Symbolic interactionism is a social theory and methodological approach, but it is also a perspective that you can use to analyze situations. 

The basic tenants of this theory are the ideas that meaning comes from people. We act towards things based on how they are socially defined through language and signs, and our thoughts or feelings influence our actions. 

This approach could analyze the different meanings of weapons in various cultures or how your profession is defined by society. It can also determine why certain groups act a particular way when discussing politics and other topical issues.

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What is the Significance of Symbols in Symbolic Interactionism?

Symbols are essential to the theory’s approach because they help us construct or interpret the social reality that we live in. Languages and signs allow people to communicate with one another, which is key to how society operates. 

However, Blumer also pointed out that these signs can be self-defeating and have negative consequences on society. For instance, the swastika was a symbol that was initially used to represent good luck in Hinduism and Buddhism. However, it later became associated with the Nazi party because of strong nationalist feelings during World War II.

How Does Symbolic Interactionism Relate to the School System?

In “The Sociology of Education: An Approach to Understanding Psychological and Educational Relationships,” Blumer discusses how symbolic interactionism can be applied in the school setting. He writes that teachers may use it as a framework for understanding their students’ actions, such as why certain groups are disruptive and how stress affects classroom performance. He also mentions how this theory can be used to understand how a classroom hierarchy is established and why it may be helpful for the teacher.

What Do Symbolic Interactionists Analyze?

The theory focuses on social behavior, thoughts, and feelings because they believe that people are motivated by how their actions are defined or understood within the context of society.

They also emphasize that social values and norms play a prominent role in acting as individuals.

Blumer states that symbolic interactionists try to explain the following:

-How do people construct and interpret their worlds, and why?

-What motivates people to act as they do?

-Why are some people unsuccessful or unhappy despite having everything they need?

-How can we improve the world?

Blumer states that symbolic interactionism is helpful because it allows us to interpret our behavior and define what success means for each of us. He also emphasizes that it is a way to understand how we interact with others, which gives us insight into understanding our social world.

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What Are Five Notable Quotes in Blumer’s Approach?

Blumer makes several essential points throughout his work; however, five of the most significant include: 

  1. “All social action,” he said, “is purposive behavior.” (Blumer). This quote demonstrates how people act with intention and purpose to achieve specific goals that they have set out for themselves.
  2. “We live our public life together; we are all parts of a single community” (Blumer). This shows how humans rely on each other to exist in their communities. As social beings, humans need one another to function as a group and carry out the tasks they all need. 
  3. “We need to recognize that human behavior- symbolic interaction is every bit as ‘real’ as physical reality.” (Blumer) George Herbert believed in how humans act in society. For instance, this quote shows how humans use signs to interact with one another in a meaningful way. Symbols involve things such as speech, gestures, and actions. 
  4. “We often do not know what we mean until we see what we say and do.” (Blumer) This quote examines how people are unaware of what they think or feel until expressed through their behavior. This shows the depth at which humans react with one another on a variety of different levels.
  5. “Society and social interaction are shaped by how individuals interpret their meanings through symbols.”

What Are Some Examples of Symbolic Interactionism in Action?

Here are three examples: 

1) Imagine that you are in a classroom with other students, and the teacher asks for ideas about what should be discussed. One student says that we should talk about what we learned yesterday in class, while another student suggests that we should discuss his new video game. The latter suggestion is made because gaming is socially defined as exciting or thrilling activities by that particular group. 

2) Now, imagine that you are in a workplace and your boss is angry at how you performed a task. The way they respond or handle this problem could be defined by societal values that emphasize respect for authority figures. 

3) Finally, imagine that you walked into your premises and saw your parent being physically abusive towards another family member. This situation would most likely be upsetting because of how your parent is behaving and how they were raised.

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Symbolic Interactionism is a significant theory that can help us understand our world and others. It has remained invaluable for decades because it allows people to interpret their environment and how they react with one another.

The symbol gives depth to objects that have meaning for us, such as speech or actions. This contribution opens wide the ability to understand ourselves and our surroundings. The symbolic interactionism (Blumer) approach is a continuously evolving theory that significantly helps people understand their behavior and actions toward one another.

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