Sociology of Family

Interpretive interactionism is one of the most useful theoretical perspectives in sociology. The theoretical approach can be used to seek a better understanding and appreciation of the reality of how society works. It explains how communication happens through the use of symbols. The approach can be used to explain relationships between individuals as well as small groups of people. Research on family, intimacy, and personal life may explain the advantages of this theoretical perspective over others in sociology. Interpretive interactionism assists in understanding and appreciating the reality of contemporary families, intimacies, and personal life.

The micro-sociology approach of interpretive interactionism entails the construction of roles in society. It explains that people construct their roles when interacting (Denzin, 2001). They do not simply learn the roles that society has created for them. On the contrary, they interpret an interactive situation in the way they feel best explains the reality of the situation. This micro approach defines humans as beings who are capable of making sense of their social world. Their ability to interpret situations guides their actions in an interaction, such as deciding to use both words and symbols to communicate.  It is from this decision that people start to rely on symbols as opposed to language alone.

The explanation about the ability to make sense of situations gives a better understanding of how human beings interact. It is also from the ability to decode the reality of the situation that people interact well with others. For example, a person uses this ability to learn that another cannot respond to a handshake because he/she does is holding something that cannot be let go (Chambers, 2012). Understanding the reality of the social situation is a necessary ability that people are supposed to use at all times. For this reason, interpretive interactionism helps people to understand how they should interact with others by explaining this aspect of interaction. It explains how communication happens and imparts an ability to appreciate it. It is from this explanation that people learn that failure to analyze the situation and rushing into unpremeditated reactions contributes to communication breakdown.

It is easy to understand the positivity or negativity of human interactions using the interpretive interactionism approach. The theoretical approach posits that society is characterized by unending interactions amongst people who use the same symbols and understand them the same way (Giddens, 2013). It means that people understand each other if their languages and symbols rhyme. At personal levels, good communication happens between people who share in the use and meanings of the same (Roseneil & Budgeon, 2004). Positive relations, for this reason, exist where people communicate in familiar ways. It can be deduced that intimacy ensues where people communicate effectively through symbols. People who understand the symbols that their counterparts use are likely to develop positive feelings about them. On the contrary, people who do not use the same symbols, or understand them differently, are likely to face difficulties communicating with each other.  They are likely to fall victim to communication breakdown, thereby resorting to bitter relationships.

Learning how relationships move towards positivity or negativity is congruent with the understanding of how people communicate more using symbols than words. People heavily rely on symbols to pass messages (Smart, 2007).  Similarly, they decode more information from symbols than they do from language. This understanding contributes to the appreciation of non-verbal as the predominant mode of communication. Non-verbal communication assists in helping people to emphasize the meanings they wish to pass. In contemporary society, people use non-verbal communication to communicate their feelings. Facial expressions, for example, may be used to communicate about love or hatred. In this sense, interpretive interactionism assists in understanding how intimacy develops through the use of symbols.

More importantly, the understanding of the use of symbols explains how people can utilize symbols to pass information and show affection to others. In the family situation, related members are highly likely to use the same symbols in communication (May, 2019). It is from non-verbal communication that they learn each other’s feelings in certain situations. This approach to understanding interaction hints to family members that they can decode the attitudes of their counterparts by observing the symbols they use. They can use non-verbal communication to understand each other’s point of view. Doing so can assist in maintaining cordial relationships by reacting from an informed perspective. It minimizes the chances of conflicts arising amongst family members. In the aspect of personal life, a person is empowered to develop good relationships with other people if he/she learns to decode their non-verbal language and respond accordingly. Interpretive interactionism, for this reason, helps to understand and appreciate the importance of learning to decode symbols correctly and react accordingly. It is through this ability that a person can develop good relationships with other people.

Knowledge of interpretive interactionism contributes to the understanding of expectations. The theoretical approach assists in the proper comprehension of how people act without having to be told. According to the theoretical approach, the interactions of human beings are characterized by the presence of symbols (Chambers, 2012). People make sense of the situation in which they are in and decide the action that they should do. This autonomous reaction to situations is manifest in the daily activities of human beings. At school, for example, one does not have to be told to study for an examination. Instead, one figures out the importance of doing so. It is expected that students should study. The reality of such a situation is that there will be consequences for failure to do so (Sundin & Fahy, 2008). One learns the roles that they should perform by assessing the situation and decoding the symbols used. It is from this rational activity that one gets an idea of what he/she is expected to do. It is also how people can assess their performance in doing an activity. The thought of how one is expected to attain in doing an activity is the source of information on the standards that one should achieve.

Enlightenment on how people know what is expected of them explains how society changes. In a dynamic world, people are expected to change accordingly. People living in contemporary society do things differently from how people used to do it in the past. Being rational beings enables people to change behavior accordingly (May, 2019). The growth of a person is characterized by changes in experiences. What one experienced in the past is different from what they are expecting in contemporary times. However, the past experiences lay foundations for decisions on how to react in a certain situation.  People use this knowledge to change behavior according to the current situation. They use the ability to decode the expectations in a new situation, despite not having an exactly similar experience in the past. It is from the theoretical approach of interpretive interactionism that people appreciate the autonomous ability of people to adjust to new situations as they are presented by changes in the world. This understanding is important in personal life for several reasons (May, 2019).  Among the reasons is that it teaches the need for a person to adjust according to the change in the situation. Changes in cultural practices, for example, demand that a person should adjust to the new ways of handling things. A person is required to know how to change to the new norms for him/her to fit into society.

The theoretical approach also explains the behavior of human beings according to their perceptions. Behaviors of human beings can be traced back to what they perceive as reality. Interpretive interactionism asserts that the perception of reality is the reason behind adjusting behavior (Smart, 2007). It explains the tendency of people to act as if something is real if they think that it is. The action of a famous person embarking on bad behavior, for example, is the result of the reality in which he/she perceives the situation. They may deliberately do bad, basing their behavior on the perceived reality that law enforcers will be lenient to them since they are famous. Similarly, a person may start seeking ways of legitimizing an heir if they think that they are dying. It is from interpretive interactionism that people understand the behavior of others. With this knowledge, it is easy to understand the behavior of people as having been informed by their perceptions of reality. This knowledge is important in the daily interactions of human beings since it helps people to appreciate how others behave, hence adjust accordingly.

Another contribution of the interpretive interactionism approach is in the understanding of roles within the family. The theoretical approach posits that different family members decide their roles based on what they perceive to be expected of them (Sundin & Fahy 2008). The family is a dynamic institution that develops over time. Different members of the family change their roles with age.  Their developmental stages dictate the roles that they play in the family. In most cases, family members do not have to be told what they are supposed to do. Instead, they are responsible for deciding their position within the family. The development of a person starts when one is a child with no responsibilities. In some cases, it reaches the point where one has to take care of about three sets of people in different generations.  At the apex of development, a person decides to take responsibility for the family members. In most cases, people take care of their younger and aged family members due to the perception that they are expected to do so. Their perceived reality is that they are supposed to do so without having to be told.

The understanding of roles within the family extends to matters of economic wellbeing. The interpretive interactionism approach assists in understanding the number and magnitude of the roles that various persons play in the family. It suggests helps to understand that the economic status of the person is a major factor to consider when deciding to take care of family members. Well-off persons feel that they are expected to take care of more family members than those who are less endowed. The interpretive interactionism approach enables people to understand the development of roles within the family. It is through the understanding that people can appreciate the roles others play, especially considering their economic statuses.

Using the interpretive interactionism approach also helps to understand the ability of persons to overcome the challenges they face in the various stages of development. The approach suggests that the developmental stages of people are important for the welfare of a family (Smart, 2007). People in different developmental stages feel the urge to overcome the challenges that come with each stage. It is from the ability to overcome the challenges that people feel ready for the roles of the subsequent stage. The feeling of responsibility plays an important role in enhancing the ability to overcome the challenges of each stage. One can understand and appreciate the ability of people to overcome challenges by using this perspective (May, 2019).  It is through interpretive interactionism that family members understand the different abilities of their counterparts and make significant steps towards appreciating the other members the way they are. Doing so enables family members to support each other to develop the synergy needed to overcome the challenges. Such understand and appreciation of each other is possible through the use of the interpretive interactionism approach.

The approach is also important in guiding the understanding of the role of gender and sexuality in driving change in the family. It suggests that the roles of different family members change according to the stages of development as well as the gender of the persons (May, 2019). At an early age, children are charged with minor responsibilities. The roles of both boys and girls are homogenous in most aspects.  The change takes place when their genders start being definite. Men tend to take up roles that are a bit more demanding in physical strength. They perceive their expected responsibility from the perspective of the ability to perform menial jobs. On the contrary, women assume roles that are more inclined towards domestic activities.  The differences in preferences of roles indicate changes in the family. One can understand and appreciate the changes through an in-depth analysis of the family using the perspective of changes in roles.  The interpretive interactionism is the basic perspective through which one grasps the idea of dynamism.

Description of other approaches

Other theoretical approaches may also be used to analyze the reality of contemporary families, intimacies, and personal life in a bid to better understand and appreciate it. They are, however, less effective in explaining the reality to the desired depth. One of them is the conflict theory. It posits that there is pervasive inequality in society created by differences in social class and gender identity amongst others (Smart, 2007).  For this reason, there is a need for social change for the sake of eliminating the existent inequality. The theoretical approach is weak in that it is largely inclined towards focusing on the negative aspect of society. It is biased in its explanation, which reduces its credibility in offering meaningful explanations. The consensus approach posits that the social institutions within society perform important activities in a bid to create social stability (Roseneil & Budgeon, 2004). It means that social stability is achieved through the consensus of people to work together for the sake of society. However, it is inadequate in that it does not consider the impact of negative incidences that happen within society, such as divorce. Both conflict and consensus approaches are also criticized for their failure to consider the micro-level of sociology.

Criticism of the interpretive interactionism

Interpretive interactionism is also criticized for its weaknesses. One of the main criticisms is that it does not consider the macro-level of social interaction. It only addresses the micro-level of social interactions, in which relationships are only between individuals or small groups of people (Sundin & Fahy 2008). It fails to address the larger relationships. Failure to do so means that it misses the larger issues that affect society. It also makes it hard to understand and appreciate the changes that occur in society. In another aspect, the theoretical approach is criticized for tending to go overboard in impressing. The theory tends to explain social interactions in a manner that suggests gross exaggeration. Another criticism of the theoretical approach is that relies on subjective interpretations.


Understanding and appreciating the reality of contemporary families, intimacies, and personal life is easy using the interpretative interactionism approach. The theoretical approach explains the behavior of people in society based on how they perceive reality. It is from their interpretations of situations that they react in a certain way, especially in the use of symbols in communication. Interpretative interactionism is by far better than both conflict and consensus approach, owing to the numerous advantages it offers in understanding society. Despite its weaknesses, it is a considerably effective approach.

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