Symbolic Interactionism as Defined by Herbert Blumer.

Essay by tumblekerUniversity, Master'sA+, October 2005

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Herbert Blumer, originator of the term "symbolic interactionism," had a profound effect on social theory and methodology. A respected critic and devotee of George Herbert Mead, Blumer expounded with fervour on the importance of meaning to the individual as an acting entity, the primacy of direct empirical observation as a methodology, and the centrality of the "definition of the situation" introduced by W. I. Thomas. Blumer's thought was also heavily influenced by John Dewey, the noted Pragmatist. This discussion of Blumer's thought will be preceded by a brief overview of both Dewey's and Mead's main ideas, from which Blumer's were largely drawn. The overview of Blumer's contributions will touch on the premises underlying Symbolic Interactionism, follow with an exploration of what Blumer called the "root images" of Symbolic Interactionism, and conclude with a few remarks about Blumer's assertions regarding methodology as it relates to empirical science.

Philosophy is the bedrock upon which any discipline is built. Blumer's thought is shot through with the ideas of John Dewey. Dewey rejected the philosophical quest for certainty and what he called the "spectator theory" of knowledge -- that being the idea that thinking refers to fixed things in nature (i.e., the notion that for each idea there is a corresponding thing in reality). Further, Dewey insisted that human beings are best understood in relation to their environment and supported the practical turn of philosophy. Of chief importance in understanding his influence on Herbert Blumer is Dewey's stress on the dynamic interaction between Man -- as a biological organism - and the natural world. For Dewey, the goal of thought was an adjustment between Man and his environment.

George Herbert Mead called his approach "social behaviourism." Drawing on Dewey and Charles Cooley, Mead stressed "the conscious mind and...