Symbolic Interactionist Perspectives
Unlike functionalists anti conflict theorists. who locus primarily on rnacrolevel concerns. symbolic interactionists engage in a rnicrolevel analysis that views society as the sum of all people’s interactions. From this perspective. people create, maintain, and modify culture as they go about tbeir everyday activities. Symbols make communication with others possible because they provide us with shared meanings. According to some symbolic interactionists. people continually negotiate their social realities. Values and nonns are not independent realities that automatically determine our behavior.
Instead, we reinterpret them in each social situation we encounter. However. the classical sociologist Georg Simmel warned that the larger cultural world-including both material culture and nonmaterial culture-eventually takes on a life of its own apart from the actors who daily re-create socinl life. As a result, individuals may be more controlled by culture than they realize. Simmel \ IY90/1907 ) suggested that money is an example of how peopl. may be controlled by their culture. According to Simrnel, people initially create money as a means of exchange, but then money acquires a social meaning that extends beyond its purely economic function. Meney becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Today, we are aware of the relative “worth” not only of objects but also of individuals. Many people revere wealthy entrepreneurs and highly paid celebrities. entertainers. and sports figures fOT the amount of money they make, not for their intrinsic qualities.
According to Simmel (\99011907). money makes it possible for us to reuuivize everything, including our relationships with other people. When social life can be reduced to money. people become cynical, believing that anything-including people, objects. beauty. and trutb=-can be bought if we can pay the price. Although Simmel acknowledged the positive functions of money. he believed that the social interpretations people give to money often produce individual feelings of cynicism and isolation. A symbolic interactionist approach highlights how people maintain and change culture through their interactions with others, However, intcractionism does not provide a systematic framework for analyzing how we shape culture and how it, in turn, shapes us. It also does not provide insight into how shared meanings are developed among people. and it does not take into account the many situations in which there is disagreement on meanings. Whereas the functional and conflict approaches tend to overemphasize the macrolevel workings of society, the interactionist viewpoint often fails to take these larger social structures into account