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Being one of the most commonly used theories, there are many scholars and theorists who contributed towards the idea of symbolic interactionism. To name a few, George Herbert Mead and Charles Hortan Cooley originated this theory as key people later inspired by them Herbert Blumer coined the term and put the theory forward to the world.

symbolic interactionism theory

Source: luismolinero/Adobe Stock

It has to be noted that Blummer was greatly influenced by John Dewey (the leader of sociological theory). The basic idea this theory put forward is that people behave based on the meaning they have given to them.


“Symbolic Interactionism is the way we learn to interpret and give meaning to the world through our interactions with others.”- Scott Plunkett.

The symbolic interactionism analysis society by the descriptive meanings that people have given to objects, events and behaviors. The behavioral pattern of the people will be based on these descriptive meanings because people behave according to their descriptive believes rather than objective truth.

These descriptive believe and meanings are nothing but interpretations given by the people thus the theory suggest that society is based on the interpretations of the people. The people interpret each other’s behavior and a social bond is thus created which is grounded on this interpretation. These interpretations are often called “definition of the situation” because they just define the situations.

This theory says how humans develop a complex set of symbols that gives meaning to the world in their perspective. The meanings are molded from the interactions with the society. And these interactions are subjectively interpreted by them to suit the meaning in accordance with the existing symbols.

It can be said that if we need to understand the behavioral patterns of the society we need to understand the existing symbols. The Interactions which molded the symbols also create a social structure. The symbolic interactionism also articulates that the individuals build a sense of self identity through these interactions with the society.

Blummer suggests that there are three core principles of this theory.

They are

  1. Meaning
  2. Language
  3. Thought

1. Meaning :

It  suggests that people act and behave towards the other people and things based upon the meaning that they have given to them. The principle of meaning is central to the theory of symbolic interactionism.

Example: when we think of a Buddhist Monk the image comes to our mind. We will have some assumptions about these people and our behavior towards them will be based on these assumptions that we have made.

2. Language :

The second core principle which makes the symbols and interactions comprehensible to the mind. And which helps in formulating assumptions. According to the theory, the naming assigned through the language, the naming creates meanings to everything because everything has its own name. To name a thing, the knowledge about the thing is important and thus the name indicates some feature or any other kind of knowledge about the things. This knowledge is converted into names through languages.

Example: when we say to have dinner outside, the people who listens makes sense of it based on their perspectives and understanding. When I say dinner outside someone will understand it as just go out and get something to eat and someone else may think that having dinner outside as a date.

3. Thought :

The third core principle of symbolic interactionism is thought. The thought implies the interpretations that we have assigned to the symbols. The basis of thought is language. It is a process of mentally conversing about the meanings, names and symbols. The thought includes the imagination. Which have the power to provide an idea even about an unknown thing based on known knowledge.

Example: The best example of thought is ‘to think’.

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Jeriphanos Makaye November 6, 2014, 8:23 pm

    The theory was well explained .Examples given were relevant.Good!

  • Brandan Peele January 16, 2015, 11:10 am

    I like the the theory was wrote out,I dont agree with it all.but for the most part it was ok

  • owoiya March 23, 2015, 1:46 am

    the theory presents the vivid situational definition of what i and u experience everyday. I love it

  • yahaya March 25, 2015, 3:18 am


  • mlai April 26, 2016, 2:35 pm


  • eliza henderson June 2, 2016, 6:20 am

    the theory seems well thought out…… I can relate with about 90%

  • Francis August 1, 2016, 2:21 pm

    Theory well explained

  • bahati November 23, 2016, 6:16 pm

    error views*

  • bahati November 23, 2016, 11:10 pm

    it is difficult to separate theories of communication from principles of it?justify this statement by using views from various scholars.please i need the answer

  • billy mishega May 16, 2017, 7:00 pm

    i truly agree with the theory , well explained

  • susini August 17, 2019, 3:30 pm

    attractively explained, and thank you very much for the wonderful description.

  • firomsa bulti March 11, 2020, 2:19 am


  • firomsa bulti March 11, 2020, 2:20 am

    great explanation!

  • Monanka Mourice January 19, 2021, 1:11 pm

    wonderful explanation I like it

  • ambrose mesa February 4, 2021, 6:09 pm

    well explained context,THANK YOU

  • Bjay February 28, 2022, 1:57 am

    “This theory says how humans develop a complex set of symbols that gives meaning to the world in their perspective. The meanings are molded from the interactions with the society the descriptive meanings that people have given to objects, events and behaviors.” **I live in a tech town and for reporting human rights violations years ago, I am inundated by their symbols/objects/non-verbals which I have never been given the definitions of. What is the best way to ignore this and heal from the instant visuals?

  • Buddy Love April 8, 2022, 2:01 pm

    So we behave according to the meanings we give to thing.
    well articulated

  • Owuno virtuous June 29, 2022, 5:48 am

    I got it the understanding of this theory here finally. The explanation and the examples are so good.

  • Nothando Mary October 13, 2022, 5:05 pm

    Well explained thankyou

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