Symbolic interactionism is a theory of sociology which frames individuals as social actors, and the self-society relationship is defined by ongoing symbolic gestures.
Everywhere in the world, humans are surrounded by symbols. These symbols include such things as Symbols of the Holy Spirit, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, tattoos, and road signs to name but a few. But, one must consider other types of symbols, such as the aforementioned symbolic gestures. For instance, there are formal practices of addressing persons holding office in society, such as the President, or Supreme Court Justices, senators, mayors, and religious figures. The respect of office is generally reflected in the full, formal title for the person, like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.
Another form of symbolism related to the person is in the equipment viewed as part of the job, or the uniform required. Members of the armed services wear distinctive elemental uniforms, doctors wear white coats, and so forth; each group elicits a different response depending upon the interpretation of the symbols by the subject actor.
For the most part, the reactions to symbolic stimuli are part of a socialized response. As we develop and grow to adulthood, we are taught directly and indirectly how we are to interpret these symbols. However, there will always be non-conformists who fail (intentionally) to recognize these symbols, and respond appropriately. This deviant behavior will be addressed accordingly in either a formal, or informal manner depending on the type of transgression.
- Abercrombie, N., Hill, S. & Turner, B.S. (2000). The penguin dictionary of sociology (4th ed.). Toronto:Penguin.