Interactionism is a name for a range of approaches to the research of social pehnomena. It's based on a small-scale study and sometimes is called the social action theory.
Interactionists say that no action is deviant or not deviant. The definition of an action as deviant depends on issues of time, place and situation. Howard Becker (1963) said that society creates deviance by creating rules, people who break those rules become 'outsiders'. Once labelled as outsiders, they're then treated as such by others and are criminalised. They mix with other outsides and become part of a deviant subculture, they're rejected by others. Youth subcultures and gangs develop as agencies of social control, label them as criminal or deviant. Being labelled as deviant leads to a crisis for the indiviudal's sense of identity and may lead to a self-fulfilling prohecy. It reinforces the indiviudal's sense of being an outsider and rejected. The outsiders form a subculture that's deviant where they have alterantive role models, support and may even gain a deviant career.
Impact of labelling
In the 1970s Chambliss studied two goups of American High School boys to follow their careers. The Saints were middle class and well off. The Roughneck were from poorer backgrounds. Both groups of boys behaved in a similar fashion, the Saints were seen as 'just mucking around' whereas the Roughnecks developed reputations as troublemakers. Most of the Saints ended up having a good education and career, whereas some of the Roughnecks ended up in prison or not amounting to much in economic terms.
Many studies, including classic work in the USA by Circourel, Lemert and Chambliss, have suggested that police devisions tend to be based on stereotypes of age, gender, class, ethnicity and dress. Reinier (1994) found that ethnic minority youths and the working class were targeted more by the police. In the UK in 2013, an Equality and Human Rights Commission report found that Black and Asian young people were up to 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than others.
Recent studies into youth behaviours
- Briggs (2013) used ethnographic methods to understand what happens to young people on holiday in Ibiza who get involved in criminal or risky behaviours. Holiday groups tend to behave in a way that's expected of them by the social expectations of commerical resorts who make money from their behaviours.
- Densley (2013) studied youth gangs and looked at the social processes of recruitment and the motivations of the gang members including the process of 'retiring' from active gang membership and the dangers inherent in ending their relationship with other gang members.
- Blackman (2010) claims that for many groups of young people, the use of drugs is normalised. They are a part of everyday culture. He presents an argument for the decriminalisation of leisure drug use.
Most interactionalism focusses on deviancy and criminality and on subcultures rather than youth cultures as such, it hasn't had a very direct effect on our understanding of youth as a separate stage in life. It's important because it offers a method that can be used to study youth groups.
Ethnography is an interactionist approach to research which is based on an in-depth study of everyday life. Because of the fluid and disorganised nature of youth cultures and youth groups in general, qualitative research methods are more appropriate. Ethnography became the preferred method used by the CCCS and more recent research into youth because a variety of different techniques can be used. In 2003, Bennett argued that ethnographic study of young people was challenging but essential because they are at 'the cutting edge of social change'.
Assessments of interactionism
- The ideas of the interactionists have been very influential in British sociology, the concepts such as moral panics and folk devils, which were used by Stan Cohen, can be traced back to this type of theorising.
- The methods used by interactionists have been useful in understanding the beliefs, behaviours and values of youth culture.
- Interactionism has tended to focus on lower status or outsider groups, often approaching them in a sympathetic way. This leads to biased accounts.
- It describes how youth cultures behave, but it doesn't explain why people acted in an anti-social or deviant manner in the first place.
- It ignores capitalism and issues of social power and inequality in society, so class, race and gender aren't seen as important dynamics in youth culture.