Interpretivism Theory

  • Weber
  • Mead
  • Goffman
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He rejected Durkheim's idea that individual's behaviour is governed by constrained external
social laws in the same way the natural world is constrained by natural laws.
He argued humans have free will and they make decisions, attach meanings, hold intents and
harbour motives.
Weber argued it is the meaning behind the actions that is important and no identifying social
correlations of behaviour. Instead he looked for an empathetic understanding called verstehen.
However, he did not ignore social structure but developed a cyclical theory: In that humans
create society but society also shapes the individual. Also he notes that although people are
born into certain roles he argues they do not respond passively to this but adapt and modify
their responses to these structures.
Humans communicate in terms of symbols as we attach meaning to these.
Mead argues we are conscious individuals and the way we choose to behave is governed by the
social context of the behaviour and our self-awareness of how others see us.
Everybody has two levels of self-concept:
1. The "I" is the internal private self.
2. The "Me" refers to the public self, the external image which people portray in their
interactions with others.
The existence of "Me" is constructed through our expectations of the reactions of others. We
adapt our actions to control the reactions and perceptions of others.
In order to predict others reactions to our behaviour we take on the role of other people to
view their perspective.
As a child we mimic `significant others' such as the family, meaning we know how they will react
to out behaviour as we experience their role. We then see the world from the `generalised
other' through agencies such as school taking on the role of teachers in child hood games.
We learn this through socialisation.
We trial behaviour to see the response it will get.
DRAMATURGICAL ANALOGY- Comparing social life to a piece of theatre.
He believes that people play roles and follow scripts during their day to day lives. However
individuals have the potential to manipulate their portrayal and try to affect the perception of
their audience through the way they present themselves trying to present a conniving role.
Life has both a `front stage' where we play roles such as teachers, doctors and lawyers. But also
a `backstage' where we can relax and drop a particular performance or role.
Human interaction centres on interpreting the roles played by others seeing if their role is
convincing enough looking at the more obvious and subtle signs, trying to look for the true
person behind the role.
He argues we play a multitude of roles in life and denies an existence of an objective verifiable


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