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Bouq/3 . Symbolic Interactionism Perspective and Method HERBERT BLUMER University of California, Berkeley Prentice-Hall, Inc. / Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey mann yin 78? Society as Symbolic Interaction jeraction has been fol- i socicty as symbi scarred tnsually Fragmen- Towed tary, st io nt scliolats, some inside the Geld of sociology and some out- fide Among the former we may note such scholars as Chazls Hlor- tun Cooly, W. I. Thomas, Robert E, Parks, B. W. Burgess, Storian naniecki, Ellsworth Faris, aud James Mickel Williams. Among these outside the discipline we ues, Job Dewey, and George Herbert Mead. None of these scholars, judgment, has presented a systematic statement of the ature of hut anan group life from the standpoint of symbolic interaction, Mead stands out among all of them in laying bare the al prem {ses of the approach, yet he did little to develop its methodological implication fo seco soy, Stdeots wh svk dept the position of sy a ‘ ro pres it, What 1 have to present shoul be regarded as my personal version, My aim sto reset the basic premises of the point of view amd to develop their methodological consequences for the study of human group life. «The term “symbolic interact refers, of course, to the peculiar 1 ehavior avid fety a1 Sqymbolie Interaction.” Aruutd Rowe. ed. Social Precesses, reprinted by periiasinn af Hamghtow Migtin Co, 7a SOCIETY AS SYMBOLIC INTERACTION and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between hu- man beings. The peculiarity consists in the Fact that human beings interpret or “define” each other's actions instead of merely reacting to cach olher's actions. Their “response” is not made direetly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is modiated by ‘the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another's actions. This mediation is cquivalent to inserting a process of interpretation between stimulus and response in the case of human behavior. > The simple recognition that hunan beings interpret each other's actions as the means of ucting toward one another has permeated the thought and writings of many scholars of human conduet znd of Ihuinan group life. Yet few of them have endeavored to analyze what such interpretation implies about the nature of the human be- ing or about the nature of human association. They are usually con- tent with a mere recognition that “interpretation” should be caught hy the student, or with a simple realization that syinbols, such as cule tural noms or values, must be introduced inte their snilyses, Only G. H, Mead, in my judgment, has sought to think through what the act of interpretation implies for an understanding of the human be- ing. human action, und human association. The essentials of his nalysis are so penetrating and profound ane so iinportant for an noderstanding of human geoup life that 1 wish to spell them out, even though briefly. The key feature in Mead’s analysis is that the human being has a self. This idea should not be cast aside as esoteric or glossed over as something that is obvious and hence nat worthy of attention, In declaring that the human being has a self, Mead liad in mind chiefly that the human being can be the object of his own actions. He can act toward himself as he might act toward others. Each of us is F with auctions of this sort fa which the human being gets ate. cy with hanself, rebuffs hitnself, takes pride iw himself, argues with cl, tries to bolster his own courago, tells himself that he should ‘do this” or not “do that,” sets goals for himself, makes compromises with himself, and plans what he is going to do. ‘That the human be- ing acts toward himself in these and cotutless other ways is a matter of easy empirical observation, To recognize tut the human being ‘cur act toward himself iso mystical con 7” Mead regards this ability of the hman being to act toward him. self as the central mechanism with which the human being faces and enables the buna being to al thus to. dicating to himself door, the appearance of task to perform, or the realization that he has a cold. Conversely, anything of which he is not conscious is, ipso facto, something w! he is not indicating to himself. ‘The conscious fife of the human being, from the time that he awakens until he falls asleep, is 2 con tinual low of self-indications—notations of the things with which he deals and takes into account. We arc given, then, a picture of the ‘human being as an organism which confronts its world with a mech aniem for making inlications to itself. “This is the mechanism that is involved in interpreting th sof others. To interpret the ae- tions of/another és to point out to oneself that the action: has this or that meaning or characte Now, according to Mead, the significance of making, to oneself is of paramount importance. ‘The importance lies along two lines. First, to indicate something is to extricate it from its set ting, to hold it apart, to give it a meaning or, in Meads language, to make it into an object. Av object hat an individual indicates to himself—is different from a stimulus, instead fof having an intrinsic character which acts on the individual and which can be identified apart from the individual, its character or meaning is conferred on it by the individual. The object is a prod- uct of the individual's disposition to act instead of being an anteced- cent stimulus which evokes the of the individual b surammded by aw enviroment of preexisting objects which pl tnpon him and eall forth his behavior, the praper pictare is thal he constructs his objects on the basis of his ongoing activity. In any of his cmuntless wets—whether minor, like dres se, or inajor, ike organizing himself for a profc vidual is designating different objects to himself, giving them meaning, judg ing their suitability to his action, and making. decisions on the basis of the judgment, ‘This is what is meant hy interpretation oF acting ‘on the hasis of symbols, sO SOCIETY AS SYMEOLIC IHSTERACTION ‘The second important implication of the fact that the human be- ing makes indications to himself is that his action is constructed or dnuilt up instead of being x mere release. Wiuatever the action in which he is engaged, the hunan individuat proceeds by pointing out to hinuself the divergent things which have lo be taken into account in the course of his action. Ie has to note what he wants to do and how he is to do it; he has to point out to himself the various eondi- tions which may be instrumental to his action and these whicli may obstruct his actin; he has to take account of the demands, the ex- pectations, the prohibitions, and the threats as they may arise in the situation in which he is acting. His action is built up step by step through a process of such self-indication, The humar individual pieces together and guides his action hy taking account of different things and interpreting their significance for his prospective action. ‘There is no instance of conscious action of which this is not true. ‘The process of constructing action through making indications to oneself cannot be swallowed up in any of the conventional psycho- logical categories, ‘This process is distinet frou and different from spoken of as the t as it is different from any other conception which conceives of the self in terms of composition or ‘organization. Self-indication is a moving communicative process in ‘which the individual notes things, assesses them, gives them a mean- ing, and decides to act on the basis of the meaning. The human be- over against the world, or against “alters,” with such a not with mere ego, Farther, the procrss of self samot be subsumed under the forces, whether from the le or inside, which are presumed to play upon the individual to produce his behavior., Environmental pressures, external stimuli, organic drives, wishes, attitucles, feelings, ideas, and their like do nat the proceswof self-indication, The process of self- ont starwls over against then in ths ividual points ont himself sud interprets: the app cpression of sivch Uhings, moting a given social demand that is male on hitn, recogoiz- ing a command, observing that he is hungry, rcalizing that he wishes to buy something, aware that he: has a given forling, conscious that he distikes eating with sumeone he despises, or aware that he is thinking of doing some given thing. By virtue of indicating such nsclf, he places himself over against them and is able to. act hack against them, aceepling then, rejecting them, or transform él