Essay: Sociology: Symbolic-Interactionism

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[. . .] 150). Individuals sometimes sacrifice independence in order to facilitate the group; society is "individuals in action," (Charon, p. 152). Society is far from being a static thing; it is a dynamic and organic process. This is why symbolic-interactionism is a dynamic sociology. The emphasis is on interaction, change, and process rather than on structure or institution.

Charon's assessment of the symbolic-interactionism point-of-view reflects Altheide's analysis of the mass media. The mass media is both a social institution and a dynamic process. Altheide describes the mass media as the "most important social institution," (p. 48). However, the mass media is an emblem of symbolic interaction. The viewer or user of mass media interacts with the transmitter of the message and the symbols being used to transmit that message. Individuals also interact with other individuals with regards to the content or messages contained in the mass media, as when two people discuss what they saw on television.

Although the mass media is sometimes portrayed as a static entity, it is far from being one. The mass media transforms social institutions in a highly active and interactive way, as politics influences media form and content; while the media's form and content impacts politics. As Altheide puts it, symbolic interactionism stresses the "social impact" of any information technology (p. 48-49). Information technology changes the way people think and behave, and can change the nature of society itself for the same reasons Charon points out in "Society."

In Chapter 3 of Terrorism and the Politics of Fear, David L. Altheide notes that the mass media is a formidable social institution -- and yet the author analyzes the media from a symbolic-interactionism dynamic perspective. Mass media, especially new media like the Internet, is almost by definition dynamic. Although the mass media is a social institution, it is a dynamic one. The individuals that receive information have simultaneously become the individuals who create, control, and distribute information such as via blogs and Facebook posts. One can no longer talk about a mass media that is static and controlled by social structures and institutions that operate independently from the society. Now, the media and the society are inseparable.

The new media enable the three fundamental features of society, identified by Charon, to emerge. The first fundamental feature of society is ongoing social symbolic interaction. Ongoing social symbolic interaction takes place with new media in the form of email, Twitter, or Facebook messages. Authors of blog posts and corporate message-makers also participate in ongoing social symbolic interaction. Roles are created and fulfilled with the mass media, which has the power to define social boundaries and roles such as gender. Ongoing social symbolic interaction also refers to the relationships that broadcasters create with their audiences.

The second fundamental feature of society is cooperation or interdependence. Cooperation and interdependence are necessary to maintain the new media. Facebook, for example, would fall apart if people ceased to use it just as a poker group would fall apart if the members lost interest. Individuals cooperate and participate in online social groups, sacrificing something for the greater good as with special-interest group forums. With Facebook, individuals sacrifice privacy and a large amount of personal information for the privilege of interacting with their friends on a regular basis. There is a cooperative and collective nature to new media. Finally, the third feature of society is culture. New media creates culture. In some ways, the new media becomes culture. Facebook and other social media are societies unto themselves with all the features of culture such as norms and values. Altheide also points out that consumers can develop brand loyalties with the mass media. These loyalties are a form of cooperation. The user depends on a media outlet like CNN or Slate for information, and those media outlets depend on the user for content development, feedback, and funding.

Altheide's argument therefore coincides well with Charon's assessment of social symbolic-interactionism. In Chapter 3, "The Mass Media as Social Institution," Altheide refers to media logic when describing the symbolic-interactionism of mass media. Media logic is the "process through which media present and transmit information," (p. 50). The information technologies are dynamic. Like culture, information technologies are also self-reflexive. Symbolic-interactionism is a fruitful window with which to view the impact of the media on society and vice-versa.

References

Altheide, D.L. (2006). "The Mass Media as Social Institution." Chapter 3 in Terrorism and the Politics… [END OF PREVIEW]

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