Theories of Symbolic Interactionism Exchange Theory and Rational Choice Theory
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).