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Assess the Usefulness of Interactionist Approach to the Study of Society

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Assess the usefulness of interactionist approach to the study of society

Unlike action theory, structural theory is the opposite and primarily focuses on small scale interactions between smaller groups. This includes gangs or cults. Sociologists who support action theory believe that we as humans are actively thinking and are unpredictable; therefore we cannot generalize human social behavior. There are many examples of humans defying the laws of societies accepted social behavior, including choosing to be an atheist and not giving into socialization.

One example of a sociologist who explains social action theory is Garfinkel. Garfinkel states that social order is created from the bottom up and that order and meaning are an accomplishment in which is something that members actively construct in everyday life by using common sense and knowledge. This makes ethnomethodology different to interactionism as it is interested not in the effects of the meanings but instead in how the meanings were produced in the first place. Meanings are potentially unclear, this is called indexicality. Indexicality is a threat to social order because with meanings being unstable, communication can break down. However we have reflexivity which allows us to construct a sense of meaning and order which can stop indexicality from happening. Language is key to reflexivity as it allows us to remove uncertainty and give clear meanings.

Social action theories have also been referred to as interactionism as they aim to explain day-to-day interactions between individuals within society. G.H Mead came up with the idea of interactionism and argued that the self is `a social construction arising out of social experience'. This is because according to Mead social situations are what influence the way in we act and behave. He claims that we develop a sense of self as a child and this allows us to see ourselves in the way in which other people see us; we act and behave in certain ways depending on the circumstances which we are in. Mead also claimed that we have a number of different selves which we turn into when we are in certain situations; i.e. we may have one self for the work place and another self for home life. Therefore the theory is useful in terms of the family as it helps us to understand that children may use their imagination and play the role of family members, presenting how children can see themselves as others are. Mead concluded that society is like a stage, in which we are all `actors'. Mead’s theory of Interactionism is useful in the study of society as it explains why people behave in different ways in certain situations.

Furthermore, Weber states that structural and action approaches are both fully important to fully understand human behavior. To get a full sociological explanation it involves two levels; the level of cause and the meaning. Weber went on further to explain four types of action; Instrumentally rational action, value rational action, traditional action and effectual action. Instrumentally rational action is where the actor calculates the most efficient means of achieving a given goal. Value rational action is where the action towards a goal which is desirable for its own sake, such as believing in god to get into heaven. Where as traditional action is classifies as customs and habitual actions, which are often automatic. Finally, effectual action is action in which expresses emotion. This relates to how Calvinsm helped to bring about social change in many past societies. Weber states that the spirit of capitalism has an unconscious similarity to Calvinist beliefs and attitudes. This represents how social action theory is useful in order to help us understand society in terms of be

Moreover, Husserl explains social action theory as never having definite knowledge of what the world outside our minds is really like, yet only what our senses tell us about it. The world only makes sense because we classify and file information into mental categories and we can only get knowledge through this process of categorizing. This relates to crime as we as a society tend to know what is right and wrong and which activities are deemed as criminal. However, activities that we deem as criminal in our heads may not be the same in all countries. For example, in some countries, committing adultery is a criminal offence and you can get tried for it. Where as in the UK it isn’t against the law, yet deemed as deviant.

On top of this, Goffman suggests that we actively construct ourselves through manipulating other peoples impressions of us. This is referred to as the dramaturgical model as he uses the anaology of drama to analyse social interaction. We are actors, with scripts and we use props with the aim of giving a convincing performance. We seek to control the presentation of self in order to give people a particular impression of us. To do this we must control the impression our performance gives. This approach suggests that there is a front stage where we act out our roles and a backstage where we can be ourselves. This also suggests that we can play roles that we don’t really believe in like a confidence trickster we can manipulate others views of us. This relates to education, where the teacher will act in a professional, formal manner in order to act as a role model to to the students. Yet they will act more relaxed when they are at home.…...

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