Social Research Glossary
Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International, http://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/socialresearch/
This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.
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Interactionism is an approach to sociology that argues people act as a result of their interaction with other people.
Interactionism was an early and influential attempt in the United States to develop a science of sociology.
Of importance to this approach is W. I. Thomas' notion of the 'Definition of the Situation', which suggested that people define the world and their situation in it in order to make sense of it. Early interactionism, via the work of Thomas, involved a nomothetic view of sociology based on empiricism, but one mediated by a concern that mental capacities be incorporated. Individuals through 'attitudes' can transcend social 'values' and indeed transform these attitudes. Causal relations need to take account of this.
To understand the social phenomena one needs to be able to explore the structural determination of action and the social psychological. This may best be done by concentrating on the individual case and relating the biography to its social constraints as manifest in social values. Interactionists, such as Thomas, argue that the incorporation of meaning into the causal process is fundamental. Attitudes and values both effect social action. In order to attain social control through a knowledge of social laws then it is essential that the cause of a social or individual phenomenon should be sought in a combination with social and individual phenomena.
This interactionist analysis of social activity, using values and attitudes, implies an holistic approach involving the contextualisation of social problems. Interactionists were concerned with close scrutiny of larger social processes. This is at variance with the later developments in the qualitative tradition that tended to investigate group, rather than societal processes.
These early approaches to interactionism retained a commitment to a positivistic science. It aimed at hypothesis formulation, definition of social facts, establishing social laws, rigorous methodology, precision and the development of social theory via 'scientific generalisation'. The idea of the potential discovery of social laws (especially for the Chicagoans) was not a mechanistic analysis. Interactionists were opposed to the idea that social activity was caused mechanistically at either a personal or social level. Interactionism aimed at a 'value neutral' sociology, which while questioning social values made no attempt at a structural critique.
Crossman (2013) described the interactionist perspective as follows:
The interactionist perspective is one of the major theoretical perspectives within sociology. It focuses on the concrete details of what goes on among individuals in everyday life. Interactionists study how we use and interpret symbols not only to communicate with each other, but also to create and maintain impressions of ourselves, to create a sense of self, and to create and sustain what we experience as the reality of a particular social situation. From this perspective, social life consists largely of a complex fabric woven of countless interactions through which life takes on shape and meaning.
Crossman, A., 2013. 'Interactionist perspective', available at http://sociology.about.com/od/I_Index/g/Interactionist-Perspective.htm, accessed 9 March 2013, page not available 22 December 2016.
copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017
copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017