The Symbolic Interaction theory refers to ways in which a family or society attaches meaning to verbal communication, non-verbal communication, people, and objects. We are taught from a young age communication using verbal language and accepted ways to express our needs. The theory represents perception of objects or actions (Macionis, 2007, p.17).
Members of a family learn what is acceptable within the family. We also can know through body language when a family member is stressed, angry, happy, or sad. We learn appropriate ways to interact based on non-verbal communication (Cherlin, 2008, p.24, 29).
In my family it is easy to tell when my mom is stressed out and just needs a few minutes alone. She will express this need non-verbally by going outside to smoke a cigarette. We know not to go to her to continue a conversation until she comes back inside and has calmed down. So for my mom, a cigarette is symbolic of stress. Not understanding my mom in this way could cause conflict. For example, if my dad had not learned to interpret her actions as needing time alone and insisted on carrying on a conversation then an argument could be escalated. My mom would expect that after many years of marriage that my day should recognize the symbolism and respect her need for space.
The example of my mom’s way to deal with stress relates to the Symbolic Interaction theory. Family members attach meaning to the action of my mom smoking and learn to act accordingly. The action is a way of communicating a need for time alone. While some symbols are a constant to a society, others are related only to certain situations or family member. The perception of an object or action determines how we react in a given situation.
Theory two: Structural Functionalist
The meaning of the Structural Functionalist theory is implied in its name. The theory is referring to how society or family functions through the way it is structured. The theory suggests how the different components work together to maintain stability (Macionis, 2007, p.14; Newman, 2009, p.59; Sullivan, 2007, p.13).
One function of the Structural Functionalist theory is the control and regulation of reproduction. New members of a family are produced and help the family to maintain stability (Newman, 2009, p.13). With the addition of a new family member, other family members take on new roles. For example, when I was born my sister took on the roll of “big sister” and felt the need to help take care of me. A first-born child would change the status of husband and wife to mother and father. At this time roles and expectations would change to suit the needs of the child and it’s future. The structure of the family changes secondary to reproduction.
Another function of the theory refers to socialization. This is the way in which one learns appropriate behaviors in a society (Newman, 2009, p.60). Behaviors can be learned through punishment, positive reinforcement, or observation. As a child my...