The interactionist perspective or interactionism or symbolic interactionism all are the same. The interactionist perspective is different from the functionalist and conflict perspective. It focuses on small-scale interaction rather than society as a whole. It usually rejects the notion of a social system. As a result, it does not regard human action as a response or reaction to the system.
The interactionist perspective is based on micro-level study whereas functionalist and conflict perspectives study society through micro-level interaction. This perspective studies the interaction, behavior, relation of individuals in society at micro-levels. Interaction and relations at the individual level go into the making of the totality of social relations and interactions.
In sociology, this perspective is influenced by the action theory of Max Weber. Other followers of this perspective are Blue, Goffman, George Homan, Alfred Swez, G.H. Mead, etc. As this perspective’s name suggests interactionism is concerned with interaction, which means action between individuals.
The interactionist perspective seeks to understand the interaction process of individuals. It begins from the assumption that action is important to those involved. It, therefore, follows that an understanding of action requires an interpretation of the meanings which actors give to their activities. E.g. picture of a man and a woman in a room and the man lighting a candle. This action is open to a number of interpretations. The couple may require candlelight because a fuse has blown or may be involved in some rituals or maybe celebrating a birthday, a wedding anniversary. So there are different meanings attached to one action. To understand the act it is, therefore, necessary to discover the meaning held by the actors.
The interactionist perspective focuses on the process of interaction in particular contexts. G.H. Mead argues that to understand the social world we need to look at the interactive relationship at the micro-level of society. We need to know what man thinks acts daily and only on the basis of that, we can handle general social questions and issues.
Interactionist perspective in general invites the sociologist to ask specific kinds of questions. What kinds of interactions are taking place between people? How do they understand and interpret, what is happening to them and why do they act towards others as they do? Those who follow this perspective focus on more minute personal aspects of everyday life, for example, by what process an individual becomes a beggar or a prostitute or a criminal? How does someone learn to experience cigarette smoking as pleasurable? What tactics are used by a college lecturer to have class control? What strategies are resorted by a political leader to convince the angry mob about a political decision taken by his party on an issue that would affect their interest and so on? From the interactionist perspective, morality, ethics, values, even reality are not given, we create them through our interactions with one another.
As we said, the interactionist perspective is also known as symbolic interactionism. Interaction takes place in two types, direct interaction such as pushing, fighting, pulling, embracing, dashing, or any other form of bodily contact. Symbolic interaction on the other hand consists of vocal or other gestures and languages spoken or written.
Assumptions of Interactionist Perspective:
- Emphasis on the importance of understanding the social world from an individual point of view.
- Focus on social behavior in the context of everyday life situations.
- Society is the product of the everyday interactions of individuals.
- Society is ultimately created, maintained, and changed by the social interactions of its members.
- Focuses on how people view, describe, and explain shared meanings underlying everyday social life.
- Emphasis on the cognitive aspect.
- Based on micro-level theoretical orientation.
Strength of Symbolic Interactionism
- Symbolic interactionism has a distinctive view of man, interaction, and society.
- It emphasizes all aspects of human behavior including consciousness, thought, selfhood, activity, interaction.
- It has given the answer to the question of how men are able to act together?
- It has revealed fundamental social processes that other perspectives normally ignore.
Weakness of Interactionism
- Interactionism neglects larger social institutions and societal processes, which have a powerful effect on social interaction and on our personal experiences, like norms, culture, etc.
- It could not clearly suggest the solution to the deviant behavior of man.
- It fails to analyze the social structure.
- It is criticized as it is based on the cultural environment of American society.