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Within this essay I am going to discuss social action theory and symbolic interactionism and evaluate the two theories separately.

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Introduction

Within this essay I am going to discuss social action theory and symbolic interactionism and evaluate the two theories separately. Max Weber believed that individuals were the key to society. He developed social action theory, the purpose of which was to find out why individuals function in certain ways. He thought that every social action performed by an individual had a meaning attached to it. Social actions are the result of conscious thought processes that take into consideration the reactions of other individuals. Weber identified four types of social action which include, reason (an instrumentally rational or calculated action), value or rational action (determined by belief), emotion or effectual action (dependent upon the feelings of the individual), and traditional action (determined by habit). In order to investigate society and the role of the individual within it, Weber developed a method of understanding called Verstehen. There are two types of Verstehen. ...read more.

Middle

Symbolic interactionists reject structure and believe that to study society, the only way to do so is to concentrate on the individual. Both theories believe in understanding the individual through the use of empathy. George Herbert Mead was mainly concerned with the importance of language. Language distinguishes humans from animals and allows us to be aware of our individuality. The use of symbols is a key element of language. They are used to give meanings to particular events or objects and are learned by socialisation. Humans make them to assist them to interact in a social and natural environment. Symbols give meaning to the way people perceive objects and events, essentially creating the world and the position of humans within it. Another sociologist, Harold Garfinkel, believed that conversation was one of the most important factors in everyday life and that by studying language and its context, the actions and methods of the individuals could be understood. ...read more.

Conclusion

Goffman concluded that the individual is a series of masks, or other selves, and the true self is only revealed when the individual is solitary. Howard Becker developed the label theory by originally studying crime and deviance. He was interested in discovering the causes and consequences of labelling individuals as criminals or deviants. He discovered that individuals are often labelled by society. These labels define the individual as a specific type of person and this may have various consequences. The label may eventually become a master status as other people assume the individual possesses the characteristics of the label. In turn, this stigmatisation may produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. This occurs when the individual believes they are as the label suggests and begin to adopt the associated characteristics. Symbolic interaction emphasises the individuals role and recognises that understanding the interpretation which individuals place on a person or situation is essential to the understanding of their subsequent actions. It does however tend to exaggerate the extent to which people consciously interpret situations - a lot of actions take place on automatic pilot almost, often out of habit. ...read more.

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