Some antinomies of interactionism

Hammersley, Martyn (2021). Some antinomies of interactionism. In: vom Lehn, Dirk; Ruiz-Junco, Natalia and Gibson, Will eds. The Routledge International Handbook of Interactionism. Routledge, pp. 416–424.



A central assumption of interactionism, shared with some other strands in social science, is that if we are to understand social phenomena, we must recognise that the social world is meaningful for its participants. A rather more distinctive interactionist idea is that meanings (of all kinds) are generated entirely within processes of social interaction; they do not derive directly from metaphysical forms, from institutional facts, from psychological characteristics, or from social structural forces. Another significant, and closely related, assumption is that human beings have the capacity to suspend habitual lines of thinking, attitudes, and courses of action, to reflect on these, and to change them. These three assumptions are tied together via the argument, evident in the works of George Herbert Mead, that thinking, evaluating, deliberating, etc. derives ontogenetically from the experience of social interaction, rather than being solely individual, mental, or psycho-biological processes. While capturing much that is important about human social life, and proving to be extraordinarily fruitful in research terms, this theoretical core of interactionism also generates some fundamental tensions, reflected in debates that have taken place during its history. These tensions have the character of antinomies: contradictory conclusions following from equally plausible ideas. In this chapter, two of these will be examined: between an emphasis on process or on structure (whether psychological or social); and between epistemic and pragmatic commitments (truth versus function).

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