The Social Self and Everyday Life
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The Social Self and Everyday Life

Understanding the World Through Symbolic Interactionism

Kathy Charmaz, Scott R. Harris, Leslie Irvine

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eBook - ePub

The Social Self and Everyday Life

Understanding the World Through Symbolic Interactionism

Kathy Charmaz, Scott R. Harris, Leslie Irvine

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About This Book

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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An Invitation to Learn about Self, Situation, and Society

Each fall, two professors at Beloit College in Wisconsin amass approximately 50 facts, events, and figures into a list describing the experiences and assumptions of students entering college for the first time.1 This “Mindset List” began as an email circulating among faculty members, providing an amusing reminder of how students change over time and how quickly cultural references become outdated. This point is especially relevant for professors because they grow older each year but the students they teach remain (more or less) within the same age bracket. References to “Seinfeld,” the popular 1990s TV sitcom, would bring on blank looks rather than the intended laughter. For professors who recall life before the invention of microwave ovens, it can be helpful to recognize that, for students, popcorn has always been made in the microwave.
Beginning with the Class of 2007, students did not know a time when computers would not fit in their backpacks. Students in the Class of 2020 grew up “connected.” As “digital natives,” they have “spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age” (Prensky 2001:1). They take a networked world for granted.
By creating composite portraits of generations of students, the Beloit College Mindset List shows how deeply the social context influences people's perspectives and experiences. Along with the social class into which we are born, and along with our race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and other social categories, the events and inventions of an era also shape our perspectives (Elder 1994). Cultural developments, such as information technology, economic trends, such as the Great Recession of 2008, and historical events, such as 9/11 influence people's thoughts, feelings, and actions.


The excerpts that begin this chapter describe a set of experiences not included on the Mindset List. Among young people in the United States (US) today, anxiety has become the new normal. The college years and the transition to early adulthood have long been a time when young people face many uncertainties, often without the familiar social support of families. However, research documents a dramatic change. One 2016 survey of American college students found that 62% reported experiencing “overwhelming anxiety,” a 12% increase in five years (American College Health Association 2017). Another survey asks incoming college students whether they feel overwhelmed by all they had to do (Eagan et al. 2017). When the survey first included this question in 1985, 18% of students reported feeling overwhelmed. By 2016, the figure had risen to 41%.
Living with anxiety, “freaking out,” and feeling constantly overwhelmed will have a profound impact on how one thinks about oneself and interacts with others. The increase in the numbers of young people reporting anxiety and stress did not occur in a vacuum. As sociologists, we look to the larger social context for insight into this change. We also ask how this change will affect the social context.
Social psychology is a branch or subfield of sociology that focuses on the interplay between what's “out there” and what's “in here.” Social psychologists address two important questions: How are people created by social order? And, in turn, how do people create the social orders that shape and mold their behavior? (Lindesmith, Strauss, and Denzin 1988:2).
As you'll see, social psychologists approach these questions about the relationship between society and individuals from different perspectives. The symbolic interactionist perspective used in this book provides a particularly useful set of tools for investigating these questions.

Sociology, Psychology, and Social Psychology

You will find social psychology courses, and social psychologists, in departments of sociology and psychology. However, symbolic interactionism has its home in sociology. Of course, scholars in both fields have long been interested in studying the relationship between the mind and social behavior. In 1908, sociologist Edward Alsworth Ross wrote Social Psychology, and psychologist William McDougall published Introduction to Social Psychology. The texts differed in how much they emphasized the mind or society. McDougall grounded mental activity in biological processes and in what he referred to as “instincts.” Ross, in contrast, emphasized the effects of the social world on the individual.
Psychology and sociology co‐existed well at first but went their separate ways after World War II. This resulted in two social psychologies. Psychological social psychology examines how intrapersonal psychological processes, or those thought to exist “within” individuals, such as traits and dispositions, influence people's behavior within their social surroundings. Social psychologists working in psychology departments typically use experiments to conduct their research. Sociological social psychology examines interpersonal processes, or relations between people. It emphasizes both the influence of society on individuals and how individuals influence society. Sociological social psychologists use a variety of methods in their research.

Symbolic Interactionism and Other Perspectives

Sociological social psychology has several perspectives, branches, or “faces” within it (House 1977; Smith‐Lovin and Molm 2000).
One of social psychology's “faces” is the “social structure and personality” perspective, or SSP. Although SSP originates in sociology, it has much in common with psychological social psychology. Its very name reveals its hybrid nature. Its ties to psychology give it an emphasis on the importance of pe...

Table of contents

Citation styles for The Social Self and Everyday Life
APA 6 Citation
Charmaz, K., Harris, S., & Irvine, L. (2018). The Social Self and Everyday Life (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Charmaz, Kathy, Scott Harris, and Leslie Irvine. (2018) 2018. The Social Self and Everyday Life. 1st ed. Wiley.
Harvard Citation
Charmaz, K., Harris, S. and Irvine, L. (2018) The Social Self and Everyday Life. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Charmaz, Kathy, Scott Harris, and Leslie Irvine. The Social Self and Everyday Life. 1st ed. Wiley, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.