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  • 00:04

    [The Significance of Symbolic Interactionism]

  • 00:12

    KATHY CHARMAZ: Hello, my name is Kathy Charmaz,and I'm a professor of sociology and directorof the faculty writing program at Sonoma StateUniversity. [Kathy Charmaz, PhD, ProfessorDepartment of Sociology, Sonoma State University]In this presentation, I will be discussingthe symbolic interactionist perspectiveand its significance for grounded theory methods.It's important to understand symbolic interactionism

  • 00:34

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: in relation to grounded theory because one of the method'soriginators, Anselm Strauss, brought symbolic interactionisminto grounded theory and his way of using it.Furthermore, using symbolic interactionismand grounded theory together can produce powerful results.

  • 00:55

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: [An Intervew Excerpt] This woman was telling meabout her life threatening illness.And she has had it for some years nowbut manages it pretty well.And right now she's talking about reflecting backupon her illness, and she said, so it-- her illness--

  • 01:19

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: I found that it has helped me a lot.Everything is just like, I guess,like because of it I have learned to adapt,and it's been a whole better way of life.I've found that you can say no to people, and it's OK.Looking at the excerpt from a symbolic interactionistperspective, meaning and action, are linked.

  • 01:43

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: She's comparing the present with the past.She's seeing some personal gains from the illness.This woman is also showing that she's learned to adapt,and she is defining a better way of life.[What is symbolic interactionism?] We'll startwith an initial definition.

  • 02:04

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Symbolic interactionism, which is also called SI,is a dynamic theoretical perspectivethat views human actions as constructing self, situation,and society.What are the underlying assumptionsof symbolic interaction?First, language and symbols are crucial in forming our meanings

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and action.Symbolic interactions assume that meaning and action eachaffect the other and social life consists of processes.Symbolic interaction emphasises process over structure.[Pragmatist Philosophy] Now I turn

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: to pragmatist philosophy and the Chicago heritageof symbolic interactionism.When I talk about the Chicago heritage,I'm talking about the University of Chicagoat the end of the 19th century and the beginningof the 20th century.What might be the central features a pragmatist

  • 03:12

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: philosophy?First, that meanings emerge through practical actionsto solve problems.People are solving problems in the world.They have to live.They have to accomplish things.It also assumes that people know the world through actions.And temporality matters.

  • 03:32

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Time matters.The pragmatist position really addresses meanings of time.More central features of pragmatismconsist of, first of all, the notionthat reality is fluid and somewhat indeterminate.Reality is open to multiple interpretations.

  • 03:53

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: There can be many ways of looking at the same events,the same incidence.Pragmatists assume that facts and values are linked ratherthan separate, and they also assumethat scientific truth is provisionaland assess through what works.[Pragmatist Roots] What are the pragmatists routes

  • 04:19

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: of symbolic interactionism?Symbolic interactionism emphasizes human agency,language, and interpretation.The perspective views-- social lifeas open ended and emergent.Symbolic interactionism studies action and process,and it takes temporality into account.

  • 04:41

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: In the symbolic interactionist perspective,the significance of language for selfhood and social lifeis basic.Symbolic interactionism takes human worldsas consisting of meaningful objects.The perspective emphasizes viewing subjective meaningsas emerging from experience and changing as experience changes.

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Thus, the Chicago tradition assumesdynamic reciprocal relationships between interpretationand action.[A Theoretical Perspective] When wethink about symbolic interactionismas a theoretical perspective, we needto think about what a theoretical perspective is.

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: A theoretical perspective gives an abstract frameworkof premises and concepts for viewing social realities.Symbolic interactionism is not an explanatory theorythat specifies variables and predicts outcomes.[Premises of Symbolic Interactionism]

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: The premises of symbolic interactionismwere laid out by Herbert Blumer back in 1969.And in his book, he tell us three main premises.His first premises speaks to our actions,when he says that our actions towards thingsdepends on our meanings of these things.

  • 06:12

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: His second premise points to the notionthat our meanings result from or emerge from our interactions.His third premise sticks to the notionthat we treat and alter our meaningsthrough interpreting and reinterpreting themas we act in the world.

  • 06:34

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Action and meaning are connected.I've added several more premises.Just to clarify, we interpret meaningsthrough a shared language and communication.And we handle meaning in social interaction,and this handling of meaning is continual.

  • 06:55

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: My last premise is that the interpretive process becomesexplicit when people's meanings and/ortheir actions become problematic or their situations change.[The Dramaturgical Approach] I wantto mention the dramaturgical approach,

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    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: which is an offshoot of symbolic interactionismwith some great similarities and a few differences.The dramaturgical approach focuses on actionand sees meaning as a rising emerging from action.The dramaturgical approach leads scholarsto scrutinize the problematic features of action

  • 07:40

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and actor's explanations of their actions.In the dramaturgical approach, the researcheradopts the metaphor of the theater.And therefore, researchers emphasize performance.They define roles and scripts.They study the significance of space.They analyze front and back stage interactions.

  • 08:02

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: And they attend to audiences.[Symbolic Interactionism & Grounded Theory] Now,I will consider symbolic interactionism and groundedtheory as a theory methods package.Symbolic interactionism combines theory and methodinto a coherent unified whole without forcing data and ideas

  • 08:28

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and to prescribe concepts.Symbolic interaction and grounded theory methodsfit, complement, and can advance each other.I have argued that grounded theory providesa methodological momentum for realizingthe potential symbolic interactionismand empirical research.

  • 08:49

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Recall that symbolic interactionismimpels us to study language, including our own,and ask how it shapes what we ask, see, and tell.[Moving Beyond Microanalysis] NowI'll say a few words about moving beyond microanalysis.

  • 09:11

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: When you use symbolic interactionismand grounded theory, you can showhow individual and collective actionimpinge upon social structure.When using symbolic interaction and grounded theory together,researchers can show how individualand collective action impinge upon social structure.

  • 09:32

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Researchers can also link subjective experience,shared meanings, the collective action, with structural change.Students of social movements have accomplishedthis kind of connection between the individualand the collective.More specifically, perhaps, when using symbolic interaction

  • 09:54

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: and grounded theory together to move beyond microanalyses.Researchers can attend to how policies, programs, localand global social movements are formed and enacted.Researchers can also show how people's actionsof routine values support and perpetuates

  • 10:16

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: social institutions.[Conclusion] In this tutorial, I introduced the connectionsbetween symbolic interactionism and grounded theory.The potential of using the theoretical perspectivewith grounded theory methods has only begun to be tapped.

  • 10:36

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Consider exploring both theory and method furtherand using them together.For further reading, start with Herbert Blumer's 1969 book,Symbolic Interactionism, and my book, Constructing GroundedTheory, the second edition.Much of the information you foundin this tutorial and a lot more will be given in chapter 10.

  • 11:01

    KATHY CHARMAZ [continued]: Also look at our Erving Goffman 1959 book, The Presentationof Self in Everyday Life.It's definitely a classic.


Professor Kathy Charmaz discusses symbolic interactionism and its links to grounded theory. She explains symbolic interactionism as the idea that we derive meaning from our actions and language. She also tells how symbolic interactionism is linked to dramaturgy.

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The Significance of Symbolic Interactionism for Grounded Theory

Professor Kathy Charmaz discusses symbolic interactionism and its links to grounded theory. She explains symbolic interactionism as the idea that we derive meaning from our actions and language. She also tells how symbolic interactionism is linked to dramaturgy.

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