The “Self” and Society

Symbolic Interaction


– Carlson, Don; Chalfin, Julie; Faith, Myles; Gadon, Orly; Johnson, Craig; Southwick, Sarah. (2002). Self-reference and group membership: evidence for a group-reference effect. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32(2), 261-274.

-Goffman, Erving. (1973). Performances. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The Overlook Press, 41, 249-254. Link:,user_id_pk1=20740,user_id_sos_id_pk2=1,one_time_token=

-Rothman, Barbara Katz. (1981). Symbolic Interaction. In Labor: Women and Power in the Birthplace, W. Norton. 151-165.,user_id_pk1=20740,user_id_sos_id_pk2=1,one_time_token=

I had never heard the term symbolic interaction before, and I found the concept to be really interesting. It focuses on humans and how we act in society. One thing that particularly interested me in class was when we discussed animal interactions vs. human interaction. Humans choose their words while animals use gestures. Both are trying to get a message across, but humans have intention and we choose specific words. This topic was brought about by George Mead who would say that we have no “self” without language which is interaction. It’s funny how we are shaped by the world around us and if we were in social isolation, we would acquire a very different “self” than when we are interacting with people. The self is a product of behavior and is a process. One concept related to the “self” is reference groups meaning that the different perspectives we face give meaning to our lives.

This shows how we have many social selves and each interaction makes us see ourselves in a different way. In the other article I found by the multiple authors, they also discussed this idea of being shaped by groups and people around us. They described how we self-categorize and see ourselves a certain way, but also social encounters shape our identities. It is weird to think that every person you interact with each day changes your life and it can be slight or dramatic. I know certain conversations I have can change the course of my day and the way I do things in the future. This also relates to a previous article I discussed by Goffman, because he talks about how we put on performances and act different ways in social situations. In the symbolic interactions article it discussed how in the flow of normal conversation we can stick to how we thought it would end up or change our “performance.” I thought this was a really interesting concept because I know sometimes I will think of things to talk about and how to react to certain occurrences, but of course when you are in the situation it won’t occur exactly how you imagined it.

I found these articles to be informative and made me think more about the idea of a “self” and how it is something we acquire not something we are born with. What we experience in social context affects how the self develops and these interactions are very important. This is the concept of socialization which refers to how we become a part of society and how we take on roles to be a part of society. The people we interact with define our roles and the self we develop. The Rothman article discussed how “socialization is not the manipulation or modification of the person, but the ongoing creation of the person” (168) and that we are active participants in this. We learn from society but also we modify it and make our lives fit with the world around us. The articles discussed identities and how they are shaped by the interactions we experience each day.