What Is the Definition of Symbolic Interaction Theory?

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The symbolic interaction theory, also called symbolic interactionism, is defined by Dictionary Reference as a theory that human interaction and communication are aided by words, gestures and symbols with conventionalized meanings. Ashley Crossman states on About that this theory is a major framework of sociological theory.

Crossman further explains that the symbolic interaction theory analyzes societies by studying the subjective meanings imposed by people on objects, behaviors and events. Experts believe that the behaviors of people are based on their beliefs and not simply on what is objectively true. Therefore, society is believed to be socially constructed through human interpretation. The varying interpretations of people, known as the “definition of the situation,” on other’s behavior develop a social bond. For example, in the question of why teenagers smoke cigarettes although objective medical evidence points to the risks of cigarettes, the answer lies in the definition of the situation that people create. Studies reveal that young people are aware of the dangers of smoking, but they believe that smoking is cool and that it shows a positive image of themselves to their peers.

However, critics claim that the symbolic interaction theory disregards the “big picture,” or the macro level, of social interpretation. The theory is also criticized for neglecting the influence of institutions and social forces on individual interactions.