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The Main Difficulties Of Using The Interactionist Perspective Essay, Research Paper

Most of the original work of the interactionist perspective focused attention on crime and deviance and subsequently, as this perspective lost much of its appeal in the late 1970’s, it has come under increasing attack. Before analysing the specific criticisms that have been levelled at the interactionist ideas concerning crime deviance, it is it is essential to provide a thorough critique of the more general aspects of interactionism.The interactionist analysis of conventioal sociology was intended as a radical departure from positivistic notions inherent inprior social thought and to transcend these with a new sociology, an attempt to stay true to the phenomens by attempting to discover mens understanding of their world. The new micro sociology rejects the existence of objective facts that are studied independently by the scientific forces. To redress this situation, interactionism started from the point of asserting very strongly that man is aware of himselfand his situation; he is aware of possessing a consciousness and that the main methodological task of the school is to describe phenomenon as they appear to the individual consciousness.Probably themost common general criticism made of interactionism is that, although it does redress the over-determination of positivism,it in turn goes too far, by concentrating too much upon the subjective being to the exclusion ofthe effects of social forces upon the individual. Interactionism is accused of lacking a sense of the history of social structure and of viewing individuals as living in a vaccum. As R.Lichtman has pointed out in a Marist critique of symbolic interactionism: “it is overly subjective, lacking an awareness of historical change, it abandons the sense of human beings in a struggle with an alien reality which they both master and to which they are subordinate”. Although interactionism is adequate for explaining small group interaction, it cannot adequately explain large-scale social organisation and mans relationship with the economic base of society. Consequently, symbolic interactionism unable explain social change. Alvin Gouldner, in a fierce attack on Goffman’s interactionism, charges that he is less concerned with social change than with how people make secondary adjustments to their social world; the fact that one’s difinition of the situation is determined by a heirarchy of power in society is not considered. The American branch of symbolic interactionism, in particular, has come under intense atack. Gouldner feels that they are guilty of an ideological bias: it is a celebration of conservative values designed for those who have already made it inthe big game, those members of the middle classwho generally mask their alienations out of a concern to maintain a respectable appearance. Beckers work on devience (which tends to side with the underdog) is, for Gouldner, an illusion of radicalism, for he questions why Becker does not support the under-privileged classes in their fight against the ruling classes. L Shaskolsky has pointed out that symbolic interactionism tends to reflect the cultural values of mainstream American life: “its interpretation of society is a looking-glass image or what society purports to be”. The American ideas of individuality and choice of action are those most often concentrated upon rather than the equally important themes of power and class domination. Ethnomethodology (a branch of interactionism) focuses upon the common-sense world, on the basic ground features and hidden aspects of everyday situations. Reality is constructed by the subjective meanings of individual actors. Ethnomethodology is also often referred to as the sociology of everyday life because of its emphasis upon the often taken for granted techniques that we all use in everyday interaction, such as gestures, conversation and even walking. This strand of interactionism has not however, escaped the rath of its critics. Barry Smart argues that it tends to focus upon talk and talk about talk, rather than seeking to get to grips with the social structure; it is a self-indulgent and privatised philosophy. Ethnomethodology is often considered to be dealing with trivial matters and that it is a “Sociology of the Absurd”. The interactionist perspectives on crime and deviance have come under particular attack. Labelling theorists are charged with an over-concentration upon social reaction at the expense of the initial deviant act. Deviant activity cannot always be caused specifically by societal reactions. There appears to be little explaination of the motivation needed to cause particular individuals to deviate and others to conform. As r Akers has pointed out: “one sometimes gets the impression from reading the literature that people go about minding their own business and then (wham) bad society comes along with a stigmatised label”. Labelling theory is assuming, therefore, that the victims are passive and powerless with little choice or consciousness. This is an ironic criticism because a chief objective in interactionism was to return to man an ability to create his own social world. Althuogh one of the most prominent labelling theorists (Edwin Lemert) attempted to distinguish between primary initial deviance and the secondary social reaction, he did in effect regard as unimportant the motivation for deviant activity. Many criminals may actually have a positive attachment to rule-breaking and it may be continued even when the rule-breaker has every opportunity to return to the status of a non-deviant. Peolpe, therefore, do not rob banks simply because people have labelled them bank robbers.Despite these criticisms, interactonism has made a very significant contribution to sociology which cannot easily be dismissed. Attempts have been made to resolve the main weakness of interactionism – its inability to explain historical change or the effects social organisation upon the behaviour of individuals. Such attempts have involved the combination of Marxist theory with the most useful aspects of interactionism. In practice, this has required the use of interactionists methods of investigaton (such as participant observation) along with Marxist concepts of social analysis (such as social class, exploitation and power).


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