Max Weber and the Paradigm of Symbolic Interaction

Max Weber and the Paradigm of Symbolic Interaction
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Max Weber and the Paradigm of Symbolic Interaction

Max Weber’s contribution to the development of sociology during the industrial revolution

Max Weber (pronounced VAY-ber) studied the development of capitalism in European countries. He found that countries have become more Protestants also became more capitalist. This is peculiar because religion and economics seem to be separate. But Protestants shared their thoughts about their wealth and finances with each other. They saw living within their means and investing money as a sign that they were living their Christian beliefs correctly. This created an economy that was based on investment. This led to the creation and development of capitalism, investing profits for even greater profits. It may seem strange that religion is related to economics, but when they interacted with each other, it was real for them.

Development of the symbolic interactionist paradigm

Based on the work of Weber, the two sociologists developed a third paradigm in which sociologists view the world. Weber showed the symbolic importance in the life of Protestants and in their daily interactions with other people. From the works of Weber, George Mead, WI Thomas and Herbert Blumer focused on the common meaning of people’s daily life. This paradigm became known as symbolic interactionism. It is more focused on face-to-face communication or small groups rather than large-scale institutions. Most of our interactions have symbolic meaning for us. The words we use, our body language, our clothes have symbolic meaning for us. They convey the identity we have to the world.

How can you use Weber’s symbolic interaction paradigm to analyze our lifeboat simulation?

How can you apply Weber’s paradigm of symbolic interaction in college?

Symbolic Interaction Paradigm and Names

An example of symbolic interaction can be seen through names. A name is not just a random set of syllables. Names have a symbolic meaning shared by people in society, even strangers. For example, see several examples below of how names can have a common meaning.

Names have important meanings that we can grasp at first.

According to the authors Conventional wisdom tells us…what are some examples of different name meanings?

In what ways do Cerulo and Ruane show that these meanings affect people?

Baby names follow trends

Some students will say that their parents simply chose the name because they liked it. However, closer examination revealed that many of the names that parents seemed to “just like” had a larger meaning behind why the parents liked the name. A respected sociologist from Harvard named Stanley Lieberson studied trends and fashion. He used the Social Security database of names to study how names became popular much like fashion. You can retc it’s the NY Times. article (or download it here) about the details of what Lieberson found, but in short, vizNaming new babies isn’t just personal:
  • The choice of name, like the choice of clothes, reflects the desire to be different, but not too different.
  • Names are separated from each other with similar suffixes or prefixes
  • Names reflect societal patterns, such as immigration patterns
  • Names are changing more often than before to reflect a stronger desire to be different.

Note that the data shows that names come in and out of fashion, even if we don’t notice it. For example, my parents named me Christopher, but they just thought they liked the name. Looking at the data, it’s now clear that Christopher was the second most popular name that year!

Try to find examples of any of Lieberson’s findings SSA Baby Name Database? Give a specific example.

Names also have general meaning because culture gives meaning to ideas

The episode is taken from a Freakonomics section titled “Roshanda by another name’and includes a number of new studies on the power of names. It begins with a conversation with an NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and his two children, E and Yo. Their names are a bit of an experiment. Indeed, there is some evidence that a name can make a difference how the child is doing in school and even she career possibilities. There’s also the fact that different groups of parents—blacks and whites, for example—have different naming preferences. Stephen Dubner talking to a Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney about a mysterious discrepancy in Google ads to Instant Checkmate, a public records company. Sweeney found that searches for people with unique black names were 25% more likely to return an ad that said the person had been arrested, regardless of whether the person had ever been arrested. But names reveal a lot about the people who name them. Eric OliverUniversity of Chicago political scientist, tells about his new study (with co-authors Tom Wood and Alexandra Bass), which examines the influence of their parents’ political ideology on children’s names.

If names affect the likelihood of success of their bearers, it may not always be because of the reactions they cause in other people (“it seems like me”), it can also be because of “implicit egoism”, the positive feelings we feel. everyone has about themselves. Brett Pelham cites this idea to explain his discovery that people named Virginia, Mildred, Jack, and Philip are increasing in Virginia, Milwaukee, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia—he believes they are drawn to live there.

in 1998 Kerry Wood of the Cubs had 20 hits in one game!

Another intriguing 2007 article titled Moniker Maladies showed that people’s penchant for initials can be a hindrance to success. Leif Nelson and Joseph Simmons analyzed nearly a century of baseball hitting and found that players with the initial K had a higher strikeout rate (the “K” stands for strikeout in baseball). They also found that graduate students with the initials C and D had slightly lower grade point averages than A and B students, and that A and B law school applicants were more likely to go to better colleges.

Brand as a common meaning

Think about what meaning people share about the following. What significance do they have? Who shares the meaning? How does this meaning affect our reactions? How does society reinforce and/or reinterpret meaning?

Take a look at the shoes above from StockX. The prices listed are the prices people are offering for the shoes (not the asking price). In other words, these are the prices people are willing to pay!

Why should people pay so much? What does/does it mean to have these shoes?

How did this meaning come about? Take a look at these sites that explain how meaning making happened for the Air Force:

“Teenager” and its general meaning

What common meanings might “teenager” have for parents? For society?

How can the “teenager” label affect face-to-face interactions between teenagers and parents, teachers, peers? How did this meaning come about?

Do you understand how sociologists view the world through a symbolic interactionist perspective? Have questions about this paradigm?


Look at your answer to what you are proud of and what your various goals are. Choose one of these answers and think about the larger meaning of your answer. Why are you proud of it or why is it a goal? What does it symbolize to you and how do you hope others will view it?

Small group:

Compare the answer above with your small group’s answers. What similarities stand out? Do the rest of your group agree with your answer to #1? (In other words, do they have the same meaning/understanding as you about those achievements/goals?)

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