Who is an Interactionist Sociologist

How did I become who I am?

Wolfgang Sander

To person

Prof. Dr. phil., born 1944; Educational scientist at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster.
Address: Westphalian Wilhelms University, Institute for Educational Science, Georgskommende 33, 48143 Münster.
E-mail:[email protected]

Roles do not fall from the sky, but arise in and for societies - all the more so, the more dynamically societies change. But how do roles come about? Where are you from? How are they changing? What chances does the actor have to introduce and enforce his ideas when designing roles (in family, school, leisure time, sport etc.)?

The American social scientist and social philosopher George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) tried to express these dynamic aspects of the development of society early on in his main work "Spirit, Identity and Society" in relation to behaviorism. Roles are therefore no longer trained as behavior through drill and practice, but are conveyed in a meaningful way. According to Mead, this happens in such a way that the actor looks at himself from the point of view of the other and reflects what reaction his behavior will trigger in his counterpart. He sees himself as an object from the other's point of view.

According to Mead, even the child learns in play and competition situations to anticipate the concrete behavior of the other and to relate it to the regular behavior - the "generalized other", which he shows with the example of the baseball game. A player can only act if he knows the rules, tasks and actions of all players and also knows his own role. All other players must also be able to do this with their behavior so that the game of baseball is possible at all. This "generalized other" not only represents the dynamic system of rules within a competition, but, according to Mead, is typical for the functioning of norms in society. The mutual orientation towards this generalized other leads to a social structuring of the self, which, according to Mead, consists of three parts: ME, I and SELF. The objectified attitudes of the others form the organized ME, it contains the norms and demands of society on the actor. The instance of the I serves for self-assertion, in it own claims and feelings are articulated. The self (SELF) tries to bring the claims of ME and I into a certain balance. This makes Mead's thesis understandable that the individual develops his or her identity through interaction with other individuals, thereby taking on an important task and being able to change social restrictions.

His student, the US sociologist Herbert Blumer (1900 to 1987) systematized the central thoughts of G. H. Mead and coined the term symbolic interactionism. Accordingly, his first principle is: Relationships matter. (cf. Blumer 1973) The image of the acting human being as a marionette, as suggested by role theory, conceals the fact that the threads on which humans are attached are not as clearly defined in all areas as it seems. Social reality only resembles the mechanics of a gear train in certain areas, in which one wheel meshes with the other. Rather, the expectations of others (e.g. from important caregivers) are like Symbols to understand, therefore always have one importance, are always interpreted by the ego and alter and thus translated into the internal program of action. If parents expect their children to come home on time, then the message (expectation) of ego and age must be understood fairly uniformly (when exactly?) And age must also be taken into account and what to do when the time comes becomes scarce or something unexpected comes up (call back by mobile phone). Since the meanings leave different room for interpretation, the actors learn to deal with the under-sharpening of expectations and norms in a situation-related and socially sensible way (tolerance of ambiguity).

Parents see that they have to keep talking to their children because they are in competition with the interpretations of reality by all other actors (friends, classmates, school, lessons, media, etc.). The special thing about social situations is that they are not fixed independently of the actors like physical facts, but are created by and through the actors. This is expressed in the Thomas theorem, named after its "inventor": "If people define situations as real, their consequences are real." This can be seen as a principle of sociology and can be transferred to many processes and rules that shape and regulate our everyday life. In the field of economics, too, social reality works in this way: If the rumor is spread about a bank that is well positioned in itself that it is in danger of becoming insolvent, the customers take their balances from their accounts and the bank actually becomes insolvent (self-fulfilling prophecy). From here it also becomes clear: If the thread of conversation between parents and children falls asleep more and more or even breaks off because the children are more and more immersed in their world and, for example, use new media for their communication, different social worlds arise. Understanding becomes difficult without this being due to the bad will of the actors. Maintaining relationships requires permanent understanding.

Blumer’s second sentence reads: Relationships between ego and alter become social relationships when and to the extent that ego and alter are ready to accept and offer each other's expectations (perspectives). The idea of ​​interaction is familiar from football in the picture of the one-two game: player 1 gives the ball to player 2 in the expectation that player 2 will play it back into player 1's course to bypass the opponent and player 1 will then hit the free field of fire Gate has. A well-rehearsed team can perfect this form of interaction and also involve third players and then turn it into a "top". In everyday social life, mutual behavioral offers create social reality - also known as role-taking and role-making. Against this background, the principle of reversibility, which is important for the formation of social relationships, can be clearly illustrated: If I expect you to treat me fairly, you can expect the same from me.

The third central insight that Symbolic Interactionism conveys about social reality is that of the Designability of social relationships, of the plasticity of social reality. Roles, norms, behaviors, interactions can be shaped and change. This aspect is particularly important for understanding deviant behavior, how it arises and how to deal with it. The example of how the socialization ("production") of good and bad students takes place in school and can often be viewed as the result of social relationships (labeling) illustrates the plastic character of social reality and the contrast to behaviorism.

Following the Thomas theorem, the social scientist gains a high level of sensitivity to examine what the actors see as social reality from their subjective point of view and what not. But within this concept there is no longer any possibility of distinguishing between lies and truth, propaganda and information, right and wrong. Everything that is believed to be true is considered a "true" statement within the framework of this concept. Because it is of primary interest to analyze how it is possible to stage and construct social reality. "The social construction of reality" - that is the appropriate title of the classic by Berger / Luckmann - is the central theme. The sociological observer tries to analyze that and how the definition of the situation e.g. of the more powerful (more powerless?) Asserts itself without having been checked for its reality content in each case. A basis for a criticism of the social situation, which crisis solutions are e.g. acceptable or unacceptable (inhuman), does not arise within this concept.

Outside the empirical sciences and within the everyday world of the actors, there are definitely opportunities to close this gap in orientation. Most people know what is moral and what is not, what is good and what is reprehensible, even if they cannot say exactly why. The golden rule is known in almost all cultures in the world and is recognized by children as the basis for human thinking and fair action: "What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to anyone else!" This rule uses people's ability to take on perspectives and asks them to check their actions for fairness. The philosopher I. Kant systematically dealt with the foundations of morality, generalized the human ability to take on perspectives, which is already required in the Golden Rule, and brought it into the form of a categorical imperative, which is so called because it is independent of empirical ones Conditions and knowledge claims general validity, i.e. categorically applies.