What Is the Interactionist Perspective Theory?

The interactionist perspective theory is an explanation used by sociologists to explain how everyday interactions contribute to someone’s identity. The theory is not limited to personal interactions, but also includes how symbols play into it.

What Is Interactionist Perspective Theory? There are three types of theoretical perspectives used by sociologists: symbolic interactionist, functionalist perspective and conflict perspective. These are theoretical ways that are used to explain how society influences people.

George Herbert Meade is considered the founder of the interactionist perspective theory and believes individuals and societies function in a way that is reflective of interactions with others and symbols. Rather than historical movements, it is conversations, actions and reactions that happen face to face that mold each person. These interactions also determine how some actions may be perceived as either negative or positive. Symbolic interaction theory is a similar idea except it focuses on how certain images become symbolic and are used to communicate specific ideas.

Example of Interactionist Perspective Theory A good example of this theory that everyone experiences on a daily basis is responding to gender. Someone who checks all the boxes for what is considered to be a man will elicit certain interactions that are considered appropriate for men. There are particular topics that one may be more willing to have conversations on that would not be as prominent for women. This is even more evident when it is two people belonging to the same gender. Two women may be more inclined to talk about their feelings. However, as explained by this theory, the topics that are associated with each gender are a result of the interactions an individual has witnessed and taken part in. Genders do not innately gravitate towards some topics over others.

Example of Symbolic Interaction Theory Similar to interactionist perspective theory, the images we see on a daily basis do not intrinsically have meaning; rather, the society we live in has allowed us to associate them with either negative or positive connotations. This adds a layer to understanding about a given context.

Think of a teenage girl standing in a private jet wearing a shirt saying, “Raised on Champagne,” says Thoughtco. These two symbols, the private jet and her shirt, both communicate a luxurious lifestyle because one would need a certain amount of money to be on a private jet and champagne is considered a glamorous drink. The shirt is an easier example to see the symbolic interaction theory in practice as champagne intrinsically does not have that status; rather, it has been socialized to be for the rich. Furthermore, if one was “raised on champagne,” having access to this drink will come naturally and is no longer a luxury but everyday life. According to the theory, this interpretation is only possible because the society we live in has given such symbols their meaning.

For sociologists, the way the world is experienced and how meaning is given to everything stems from these theories. So next time an image pops up and generates a negative reaction, remember all of the forces at work behind it.