Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Interactionism (sometimes known as interpretivism) is a generic sociological paradigm that brings under its umbrella a number of subperspectives:
Interactionism has become one of the dominant sociological perspectives in the world today. It is theory based on social interaction, hence the name given to the theory itself. It links to the sociological views of the German theorist Max Weber. It promotes the idea that nothing in society is determined, and that people can break free of a label as individuals. This is sociology on the micro-level Critics would say that it is merely a mild form of Postmodernist theory, however it has in recent times incorporated Marxism and New Right theory .
Interactionist theory has grown in the latter half of the twentieth century, having its roots in America. It can be noted how close the ideas do link to the concept of the American dream, with the individual having the power to change society and indeed history from below, rather than being manipulated from above. Therefore in the world of sociology, it is a theory which studies individuals and how they act within society.
George Herbert Mead, as an advocate of pragmatism and the subjectivity of social reality, is considered a leader in the development of interactionism. Herbert Blumer expanded on Mead's work and coined the term "Symbolic interactionism".
In the philosophy of mind, the position labeled interactionism is a form of property dualism, which in turn is a form of emergent materialism.

Symbolic interactionism
Social constructionism Interactionist methodology
Interactionists reject the approach of gathering statistical (quantitative) data, a method preferred by structuralists. These methods include; experiments, structured interviews, questionnaires, non-participant observation and secondary sources. They have a few basic criticisms, namely:

Statistical data is not "valid". This is to say that these methods don't provide us with a true picture of society on the topic being researched.
Research is biassed and therefore not objective. Whilst the sociologist would be distant, it is argued that a hypothesis means the research is biased towards a pre-set conclusion.
Information gathered is a "snapshot" of society. With questionnaires, surveys or structured interviews can only give a picture of how a person feels at a specific moment in time, and not how attitudes and values change over time.
People can be categorised into their answers to surveys, etc. This is because they must choose from a limited range of answers. Interactionists believe this means that people firstly may not understand, and secondly, may be "boxed in" to answers they don't necessarily agree with.
They reject all forms of experiments, seeing them as "artificial". A more mild form of experiment, the field experiment takes place in the subject's natural surroundings. This method was supported by David Rosenhan in 1973. This is again rejected by Interactionists, who claim it is artificial, and also raises ethical issues to experiment on people. Rejection of Structuralist methods
Interactionists prefer several methods to contrast with Structuralist methods, namely; unstructured interviews, covert participant observation, overt participant observation, and analysing historical, public and personal documents by content analysis.
Interactionist methods generally reject the absolute need to provide statistics. Structuralists argue this allows cause and effect to be shown, as well as isolating variables so that relationships and trends can be distinguished over time. Instead, interactionists want to "go deep" to explain society. This draws criticisms such as:
Despite these criticisms, interactionist methods do allow flexibility. The fact that there is no hypothesis means that the sociologist is not rooted in attempting to prove dogma or theory. Instead, researcher react to what they discover, not assuming anything about society. This is arguably why some theorists have turned to this method.

Information and sociological research cannot be compared or contrasted, hence we can never truly understand how society changes. Data is not reliable.
The information that is gathered is interpreted (hence the name "Interpretivist") by a sociologist, therefore it isn't objective, but biased. Preferred Interactionist Methods

Field Experiments: David Rosenhan 1973. Studied the treatment of mental health in California and got 8 normal researchers to carry out the study at 12 hospitals. Critics say the method is unethical, and the vast majority of Interactionists concur.
Unstructured interviews: William Labov 1973. Study of socio-linguistics. Joan Smith 1998. Aaron Cicourel and John Kitsuse 1963 ethno-methodology study in American schools. Howard Becker 1971.
Participant Observation: John Howard Griffin, Michael Haralambos. Case Studies
Interactionism, or the idea that individual have more awareness, skill and power to change their own situation, links to several other theories.

Marxist Interactionists
Pluralism is the idea that the "public gets what the public wants." It is the notion that our lives offer choice like a representative democracy. This idea of consumer choice means that each individual has power as a consumer to change any aspect of life if he/she wishes to do so. The situation that exists is, according to the theory, a reflection of the norms, values and beliefs of the majority of people. It fits with the idea of individual power, although interactionist sociologists may not accept the idea that we are all labelled as "consumers".