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Symbolic interactionism is a sociological and criminology perspective (paradigm) which examines how individuals and groups interact, focusing on the creation of personal identity through interaction with others. Of particular interest is the relationship between individual action and group pressures.

Symbolic interactionism suggests that the first unit of analysis is the interaction of individuals. Researchers investigate how people create meaning during face-to-face interaction, how they present and construct the self (or "identity"), and how they define situations of co-presence with others. One of the perspective's central ideas is that people act as they do because of how they define the present situation. Contrast this to other versions of social psychology and behaviorism, which suggest that individual behavior is automatically trigered by situational cues.

Through their interactions, individuals create the symbolic structures that make life meaningful. Reality does not impose the names and definitions of things, but rather people must define things and make them meaningful in order to make them socially real. Through interaction we create structures that multiple social actors experience and understand in similar ways: this is how "society" is created.

Symbolic interactionism allows researchers to understand how individuals negotiate, manipulate, and change the structure and reality to a certain extent. Individuals are already born into a society which has symbolic structures. Symbolic interactionism claims to be highly empirical: it is about processes and things that we can actually see happening.

The unit of analysis is very often either (1) face-to-face interaction or (2) individuals' definitions of self. Critics commonly consider it a limitation that symbolic interactionism tends to ignore the material reality outside of interaction. Symbolic interactionist analyses ignore things that cannot be documented within face-to-face interactions, such as the topics dealt with by demography. Critics insist that other factors must be taken into consideration, factors which are not visible and are not overtly present in the face-to-face interaction. Symbolic interactionists respond that their perspective is disciplined by high evidentiary standards, based on evidence of actual social interaction.

The most famous symbolic interactionist--the one who coined the term--is Herbert Blumer. Erving Goffman is also noted for his contributions to the field, although he famously claimed not to have been a symbolic interactionist. George Herbert Mead, an American pragmatist, is usually recognized as having provided the philosophical inspiration for symbolic interactionism.

See alsoEdit

es:Interaccionismo simbólico fr:Interactionnisme symboliquehe:אינטראקציוניזם סימבולי nl:Symbolisch interactionisme

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