Interactionist Theoretical Symbolism Communication—the interchange of meaning via language and symbols—is thought to be how humans make sense of their social surroundings. Interactionists such as George Herbert Mead and John L. Austin believe that the true nature of reality is subjective, and so they look to human experience for knowledge about what lies beyond our senses. From this perspective, language is seen as the most important tool for understanding society because it is through language that we communicate ideas and values.
Functional Theoretical Symbols Communication—the exchange of information or material goods—is thought to be how humans gain power over one another. Functional theorists such as Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim believe that language and culture are tools used by the powerful to keep others under their control. From this perspective, language is used to reinforce beliefs and values that benefit those who hold the most power. Words are also believed to have physical effects on people: when you call someone a bad name, you are actually sending them a signal about your opinion of them; the louder you say it, the more you mean it.
Cultural Theoretical Symbols Communication—the exchange of ideas and values between individuals of a single species—is thought to be how humans come together in groups to share experiences.
Sociologists understand social life using three major paradigms. Symbolic interactionists study how humans use symbols to build and express their worldviews. Symbolic interactionists often concentrate on the micro level—small-scale, face-to-face interaction. Cognitive psychologists study how people think and reason by testing theories in the laboratory. They tend to focus on the macro level—large-scale systems such as societies or cultures. Evolutionary psychologists study human behavior from an evolutionary perspective. They try to explain what people do now as a result of natural selection over many generations.
All three paradigms are used in sociology. The symbolic interactionist approach is most common among sociologists who seek to understand social phenomena by looking at how individuals interpret and react to symbols related to society as a whole. The cognitive psychologist's experimental method is most common among sociologists who aim to explain social processes by analyzing how individuals make judgments about situations and events.
The word "sociology" comes from two Greek words meaning "study of mankind." It was coined in 1872 by German scholar Wilhelm Wundt. He introduced this new field by writing that the goal of sociology is "the scientific analysis of society."
Interactionism based on symbols Micro-sociology is most closely related to the sociological approach. It focuses on small social groups such as families, schools, work places, clubs, and neighborhoods. The main tool used by microsocioloists to understand how people interact with one another is the interview. Interviews are questions asked of a single person or group of people about their experiences in order to learn more about what makes them who they are.
Microsociology was developed by Émile Durkheim in the 1890's to explain why some societies are more stable than others. His conclusion was that if a society's basic structure is strong, then it will have less opportunity for violence.
Modern microsociologists continue this tradition by trying to understand how different aspects of society influence each other through communication. They do this by looking at how information is passed from person to person within small groups.
Microsociology is most useful for understanding how things happen within small groups of people. It can help scientists understand how certain events are likely to occur given particular circumstances. For example, microsociologists have used their knowledge of small groups to explain why some revolutions fail while others succeed.
Interactions and interpretations of each other's acts, according to symbolic interactionists, produce and sustain culture. "Every object and action has a symbolic meaning, and language serves as a method for humans to symbolize and transmit to others their interpretations of these meanings" (Griffiths et al.). Culture is thus seen as a product of human activity that establishes certain rules or norms that people then interpret as being right or proper.
Culture is defined by four main components: material objects, such as tools and clothing; artifacts, which are non-material objects used by humans to express ideas, concepts, and values; symbols, which are representations of ideas, concepts, and values used by humans to communicate with one another; and behavior patterns, which are learned responses to situations created by individuals or groups within their cultural context.
These components reflect an emphasis on the material and the social aspects of culture. Material objects are important because they can be used to create social relationships - for example, using tools to cut food sharing it with someone else. Social objects include things like money, laws, and traditions that help people interact with one another (such as cutting across lines of conflict when meeting someone). Behavior patterns are important because they are what make up cultures - what people do or not do. These behaviors can be explicit, such as marching in protest, or implicit, such as how many hours people work per week. Either way, cultures are made up of both tangible and intangible elements.