Theories Of Symbolic Interactionism, Exchange Theory And Rational Choice Theory Essay, Research Paper
This essay will address actions of individuals and the contribution individual actions make to the social structure, how society flows to the actor via the ?Me? and is constructed or reconstructed by the ?I,? giving the ?I? a place in creating society. I will further analyze the theories and explore the impact of norms and values on the decisions by the actors.
This analysis will include the concepts and theories of symbolic interactionism, exchange theory and rational choice theory, through the works of Mead, Blau, Homans, and Ritzer.
Mead was a pragmatist, and felt that reality does not exist but is created through actions; this demonstrates the need for interactions between the actor and the world. People, base their actions on what they remember being useful to them, and finally people have the ability to interpret the social world and act based upon the meaning of events to them rather than directly to events. (Ritzer 2000).
The theory of symbolic interactionism grew from the understanding the mind was not a thing or structure, but was a process of thinking (Ritzer, 2000). This process comprised of three stages, which includes defining objects in the social world, outlining possible modes of conduct and seeing the consequences of alternative actions and elimination of unlikely possibilities allowing a focus on selecting the most optimal course of action (Ritzer, 2000), this process allows the ?self? the ability to adjust with interactions with others. (Ritzer, 2000)
Mead used the term society to mean the ongoing process that precedes both the mind and self (Ritzer, 2000) Clearly defined by Mead, society represents an organized set of responses accepted by the individual, giving the form of me. (Ritzer, 2000) Society is constantly changing based upon the interpretation and actions or responses of the actor. I feel that Mead failed to take a macro approach to this, by not examining in depth the factors that may influence the interpretation of the event by the actor.
To better understand Mead, it is important to look at the ?Act,? in which Mead borders on the behaviorist approach on stimulus and response. Mead said, we conceive of the stimuli as an occasion or opportunity for the act, not as a compulsion or a mandate?(Ritzer, 2000). This is where I feel he needed a more focused approach on the stimuli, and that the individual can be influenced or react to the stimuli in a predetermined way. If you agree the response is based upon the meaning or interpretation of the act, under Mead?s philosophy you would then agree that society is fluid and constantly open to change. To further understand this one may look at Mead?s four- stage dialectical model used to define the act. The model comprised of impulse, perception, manipulation, and consummation, action or reaction is based on the interpretation of one person or actor (Ritzer, 2000).
Mead moved further in the explanation of interaction through gestures, symbols and communication, and that through individual interpretations of these that the self becomes a part of society, rather than a separate entity (Ritzer, 2000).
The basic principles of symbolic interactionism are based upon the premise that humans have the capacity for thought, and that this capacity is shaped through social interaction. Through social interaction, people learn the meanings and symbols that allow creative thought and the ability to alter this thought and reactions based upon the interpretation of the situation. This ability to interact with the self gives the human the ability to access which action or reaction is the most appropriate (Ritzer, 2000). When these patterns interact, you have groups and groups form society. While, I agree the individual plays a role in shaping society, some type of reward influences the majority of decisions. In this example, I would use the reward as fitting ?within a group,? this is better described through the rational choice theory.
A different approach to social theory is rational choice, as in symbolic interactionism the focus is on the development of the society because of the actions of the actor. The actor in rational choice theory has a focus of their actions being purposeful or having intention. The actors are seeking a reward or working toward a goal with their actions (Ritzer, 2000). There can be constraints for the actor in meeting the goals. The first being the scarcity of resources, the second is institutional constraints (Ritzer, 2000). These constraints could hinder the actor?s ability to act independently from society; hence, society would influence the actor rather than the actor creating society. I would also ascertain that these constraints could also serve as a foundation for conflict or dissolution of a friendship due to inequality. As Jeong (2001) describes, economic or social inequality is a major factor in conflict.
Peter Blau through his extension of the exchange theory looked to introduce norms to the model, this bringing the theory to a macro level. Blau argued that relationships are formed for various reasons, but for the relationship to continue or be enhanced rewards must be exchanged. If one party is unable to provide equal rewards, a difference of power will emerge in the relationship (Ritzer, 2000). People look to various groups because of the award associated with the group. It would appear that Blau looks at the individual working toward the macro level or being influenced by the macro level. He fails to look in detail at the influence that the individual or the micro has on the macro.
Ritzer?s Major Levels of Social Analysis (2000) does a wonderful job of describing the American society. In looking at the model, area one of the macro would encompass the US government; area two is present cultures and norms. The micros would follow the model of Mead in allowing the individual the ability to make decisions and form or change society. The macros can influence or be influenced by the micros in an open society; this also would allow change to occur from a macro- to- macro or a micro-to-micro interaction.
Jeong, Ho-Won. 2000 ?Peace and Conflict Studies An introduction,? Burlington
Ritzer, George 2000 ?Sociological Theory,? Fifth Edition, New York, NY: