What Are Some Examples of Symbolic Interactionism?

Smoking, race, gender and interpersonal relationships can all function within the framework of symbolic interactionism. Indeed, symbolic interaction theory suggests that all behaviors function as a part of social construction developed as an individual creates meaning through his interactions. Symbolic interaction consists of three parts: meaning; language, the symbols through which human beings communicate meaning; and thought, each individual’s interpretation of symbols, an inner dialogue.

Excluding the symbolic interaction – the subjective meaning a human places on an action – whether to smoke or not has a simple answer: no. The objective health consequences would prevent anyone with no symbolic interaction attached to smoking from doing so. However, through symbolic interaction, a person may find a social meaning behind smoking, a meaning communicated through the language of a media or peer group that glamorizes smoking. That person may then think, or interpret the symbols surrounding smoking, and find in his inner dialogue that the social meaning behind smoking outweighs the objective health consequences. In other words, smoking is cool despite being unhealthy.

Race and gender, and people’s perceptions thereof, also develop by symbolic interaction. From a young age, children learn to define themselves by external characteristics. By age 3, they are expected to know if they are a boy or a girl. They then develop what it means to be a boy or a girl by their interactions with adults, toys and other external influences. Being a boy or being a girl is socially constructed through the language provided to children. Their innate desire to please drives an inner dialogue about how to behave in that socially constructed manner.