Symbolic Interactionism

What Is the Primary Focus of Symbolic Interactionism?

Symbolic interactionism is an essential framework in sociological theory which assumes that everyday social interactions construct the social reality. The repetitive acts of interaction among individuals in social groups create symbolic and shared meanings. The symbolic interaction perspective concerns itself with the adaptation of distinctive meanings. It also analyses the interpretation of meaning through social practice. The theory presupposes that people attach subjective meanings to external phenomena. People act according to the subjective meaning they attach to the external environment.

Whether you are researching on your own or hiring dissertation writing services, it is essential to know about symbolic interactionism and its primary focus.

Founder of Symbolic Interactionalism

George Herbert Mead was the first person who introduced the perspective of symbolic interaction in the 1920s. He asserted that people develop their self-image through social interactions. He argued that the build-up of self that involves self-awareness and self-image has its origins in social experiences. Charles Horton Cooley termed society as a looking-glass self through which we see ourselves. We see our reflections in the societal mirror and formulate our sense of self through the reactions of people around us. It is crucial to understand the primary focus of the symbolic interaction perspective. This article will discuss the primary focus of symbolic interactionism and what it means.

Definition of Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interaction theory analyses the function of language. It also examines the impact of symbols in creating meaning through human interactions. Language and symbols in social contexts help us attach meaning to our different experiences. Our personhood and concept of self transmute as we interact with the world. We act and behave according to the societal frame of reference. We think about our future actions based on how others think about them.

Besides, the proponents of symbolic interactionism believe that reality acquires its character and “truth” from communications and interactions. They argue that reality is a social construction. Reality acquires its meaning through discussions, social interactions, thoughts and ideas. The symbolic interaction perspective attaches great importance to human agency. It depicts human beings as the creators of their reality, contrary to the determinist approaches. Individuals shape the society around them, and change is a constant phenomenon.

Primary Focus of Symbolic Interactionism

The primary focus of the symbolic interaction perspective is to analyse the subjective meanings. They encompass the following features.

  • Understand the subjective meanings that people attribute to objects, events and behaviours
  • Understand the actions of the people because of their particular subjective experiences and environment
  • Examines narratives of established truths
  • Analyse the creation of meaning through different lenses. Role of language, belief system, social and political conditions in creating meaning
  • Understand how people interpret the reality around them. What informs those choices?
  • How does meaning originate from the broader societal and cultural framework?

Examples of Symbolic interactionism

Politics and the idea of self

The symbolic interaction perspective in a political context examines the relationship between self and politics. It analyses the following things. Max Weber asserted that people act according to their subjective interpretation of meaning.

  • How the alignment of people with left-wing or right-wing political views shapes their identity?
  • How do political affiliations shape the role of individuals in society?
  • Understand the influence of political beliefs on the norms.
  • Analyse the impact of politics on the roles that individuals assume for themselves.
  • How individuals incorporated into different political structures, perceive the world around them?

According to symbolic interactionist theorists, right-wingers develop their sense of identity within the institutions. For such people, identity derives its character from conventional roles in family, church and profession. On the other hand, Leftists see themselves as those who defy the conventional power hierarchy. Left-wingers develop their sense of identity by affiliating themselves with broad roles.


According to the symbolic interaction perspective, gender is a social construct. The concepts of masculinity and femininity get their character through repeated interactions and socialization. Gender, according to symbolic interaction theorists, is not a biological phenomenon but is a result of symbolic interactions. For example, the roles assigned to men and women in society are because of repeated interaction patterns. Society determines gender based on the roles that men and women perform. Gender is a created concept that has no intrinsic attributes.


Symbolic interactionism is a rising technique to evaluate the concept of memory attached to certain places. It compares the objective aspects of a physical space and subjective memories attached to it through repetitive interactions. Researchers who study how meaning gets its significance through geography focus on the following.

  • Creation of meaning through mundane social interactions in physical spaces
  • Assess the relationship between social space and identity
  • Meaning created through interactions with non-human entities such as nature, maps and buildings
  • Geographical locations and their perception shapes the social and cultural worldviews

Analysis of Self and Identity

Symbolic interactionists study the formation of self and identity through language, belief systems, and social and political conditions. It focuses on the following aspects.

  • The perception of roles that one chooses for himself/herself about others
  • Examines the actions of individuals about the broader society
  • How do individuals construct events to confirm their subjective meanings?
  • How does a person’s identity shape behaviour, motivations and emotions in a social context?

Study of Physical Environment

The physical environment has a significant impact on shaping perceptions of people. The interaction of human beings with physical objects shapes identity formation. A symbolic interaction perspective is a common approach in studying architectural sociology. The researchers examine the following aspects of the physical environment.

  • How do socio-cultural aspects influence and design the physical environment?
  • How does the physical environment influence the socio-cultural phenomenon?
  • The study of the physical environment encompasses buildings, monuments, houses, churches, shrines and furniture
  • Examine the impact of architecture on people’s perception of self
  • Identify the architecture to know about the meaning and significance of shared symbols


Symbolic interactionism equips researchers with different lenses to analyse human societies’ complex nature. It is an efficient approach to contextualising human experience in light of internal and external factors. Symbolic interaction studies emphasize co-existence where people understand that reality is subjective. It leads to having respect and tolerance for the views of other people.