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The Social Self and Everyday Life: Understanding the World Through Symbolic Interactionism

The Social Self and Everyday Life: Understanding the World Through Symbolic Interactionism

Kathy Charmaz , Scott R. Harris , Leslie Irvine

ISBN: 978-1-118-64540-6

Nov 2018, Wiley-Blackwell

288 pages



An engaging text that enables readers to understand the world through symbolic interactionism

This lively and accessible book offers an introduction to sociological social psychology through the lens of symbolic interactionism. It provides students with an accessible understanding of this perspective to illuminate their worlds and deepen their knowledge of other people’s lives, as well as their own. Written by noted experts in the field, the book explores the core concepts of social psychology and examines a collection of captivating empirical studies. The book also highlights everyday life—putting the focus on the issues and concerns that are most relevant to the readers’ social context.

The Social Self and Everyday Life bridges classical theories and contemporary ideas, joins abstract concepts with concrete examples, and integrates theory with empirical evidence. It covers a range of topics including the body, emotions, health and illness, the family, technology, and inequality. Best of all, it gets students involved in applying concepts in their daily lives. 

  • Demonstrates how to use students’ social worlds, experiences, and concerns to illustrate key interactionist concepts in a way that they can emulate
  • Develops key concepts such as meaning, self, and identity throughout the text to further students’ understanding and ability to use them
  • Introduces students to symbolic interactionism, a major theoretical and research tradition within sociology
  • Helps to involve students in familiar experiences and issues and shows how a symbolic interactionist perspective illuminates them
  • Combines the best features of authoritative summaries, clear definitions of key terms, with enticing empirical excerpts and attention to popular ideas 

Clear and inviting in its presentation, The Social Self and Everyday Life: Understanding the World Through Symbolic Interactionism is an excellent book for undergraduate students in sociology, social psychology, and social interaction.

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Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

1 An Invitation to Learn about Self, Situation, and Society 1

# ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike 2

Sociology, Psychology, and Social Psychology 3

Symbolic Interactionism and Other Perspectives 4

Overview of the Book 8

Chapter Previews 9

Note 13

References 13

2 Looking at Life from the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 16

Symbolic Interactionism as a Theoretical Perspective 19

Assumptions about Human Nature and Social Life 21

Premises of the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 24

The Development of Self 28

Society, Self, and Mind: The Social Psychology of George Herbert Mead 28

Charles Horton Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self” 32

Self, Self‐Concept, and Identity 34

Defining the Situation, Naming, and Knowing 35

W.I. Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas’s Theorem 35

Anselm Strauss and Naming and Knowing 36

Erving Goffman’s Metaphor of the Theater: Dramaturgical Analysis 38

Conclusion 42

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 43

Notes 44

References 45

3 Socialization: Becoming Ourselves 48

What Is Socialization? 50

Sociological Perspectives on Socialization 50


Socialization 52

Theoretical Perspectives of Socialization 52

Types of Socializing Experiences 56

Socialization in Childhood 57

Infants and Agency 57

Parents and Children 59

Peers and Socialization 62

Adult Socialization 66

Involvements and Evolvements 66

Total Institutions and Remaking the Self 68

Conclusion 70

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 71

Notes 72

References 73

4 The Social Body: Appearances and Experiences 76

Bodily Appearances 77

Coping with Bodily Stigma 81

Defining Stigma 81

Responding to Being Stigmatized 85


Bodily Experiences 87

Conclusion 92

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 92

Notes 94

References 94

5 Health, Illness, and Disability 96

Meanings of Health, Illness, and Disability 97

Maintaining Health 99

Individual vs. Social Responsibility for Health 101

Individual Responsibility for Health 102

Gender and Individual Responsibility for Health 102

Extending Individual Responsibility through Online Participation 103

Social Responsibility for Health 105

Individual Responsibility and Neoliberalism 105

How Individual Responsibility for Health Complements Neoliberalism 105

Moral Failure and Victim‐Blaming 107

Experiencing Serious Illness 108

The Diagnostic Quest 109

Biographical Disruption and Loss of Self 111

Living with Illness and Disability 114

Medicalization, Biomedicalization, and Risk 118

Conclusion 119

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 120

Notes 121

References 121

6 Emotion Norms, Emotion Management, and Emotional Labor 125

Emotion Norms 126

Emotion Management 131

Interpersonal Emotion Management 135

Emotional Labor 137

Controlling Employees’ Emotions 138

The Unequal Distribution of Emotional Labor 141

Conclusion 144

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 145

Notes 146

References 146

7 All Our Families: Diverse Forms, Diverse Meanings 150

The Cultural Relativity of Family 152

Three Ways of Answering the Question “What Is Family?” 154

Family Discourse as Meaning‐Making 156

The Social Shaping of Family Descriptions 160

Who Knows Best about Families? 162

Conclusion 164

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 165

Notes 167

References 167

8 “Always On/Always On Us”: Technology, Interaction, and the Self 170

The Cyberbased Generalized Other and the Mediated Looking Glass 173

Music as a Technology of the Self 176

The Quantified Self 179

Conclusion 183

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 183

Notes 184

References 185

9 Amplifying Social Problems: Claimsmakers and Their Contexts 190

Objectivist and Interactionist Approaches to Social Problems 192

Amplifying Social Problems 196

The Contexts of Claimsmaking 201

Conclusion 205

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 206

Notes 207

References 207

10 Individuals and Institutions 209

How Institutions Shape Individuals 214

Creating “Good Ford Men” 217

Responses to Constraint 219

The Loss of Institutional Anchors 221

“Who am I Now?” 222

The Role of Place 223

Conclusion 225

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 226

Note 227

References 227

11 Inequality in Interaction 232

Studying Inequality 233

Reproducing Inequality through Interaction 238

Boundary Maintenance 239

Othering 240

Microaggressions 242

Subordinate Adaptation 243

Emotion Management 245

Resisting and Challenging Inequality 247

Conclusion 248

Learning by Using the Symbolic Interactionist Perspective 248

Notes 249

References 250

12 Conclusion: The Benefits of Studying Symbolic Interaction 254

The Value of Studying Symbolic Interactionism 254

Social Interaction Is a Ubiquitous (and Enjoyable) Topic 254

SI Provides a Useful Vocabulary for Understanding Social Life, Via Its Focus on Generic Social Processes 255

SI Can Assist in Self‐Improvement 257

Altruism 258

Final Thoughts 259

References 259

Index 261