Interactionist theory
what is it?

Interactionist theory is less tangible than say, role theory, because it involves internal mental models as opposed to external social models. Meaning-making occurs when the individual associates objects and actions with meaning for themselves. Consequently this type of theory appears more tentative and even negotiable.

Alix (1995) describes 3 variations on interactionist theory:

  • symbolic interactionism,
  • exchange theory, and
  • dramaturgical theory.
symbolic interactionism Symbolic interactionism proposes that prior to engaging in an interaction, human beings size up the other party to determine the value of the interaction in symbolic ways. For example, what is the value of being a woman if you consider yourself a woman living in a man's world? What value does the student role possess when you can't understand a thing your professor is saying?
exchange theory Exchange theory suggests that people calculate the amount pleasure or pain associated with a given interaction and make decisions based on their tolerance and past experience. Normally we want to repeat pleasurable experiences and avoid painful ones. For example, if you prefer not to speak in public, a class assignment of a presentation will probably rate high for pain and low for pleasure.
dramaturgical theory As the name suggests, dramaturgical theory uses a drama metaphor to explain that we are actors fulfilling our roles on the stage of life. We write our scripts to suit our purposes and costume ourselves accordingly.
reference Alix, E.K. (1995). Sociology: An everday life approach. Minneapolis, MN: West Publishing.