To read this content please select one of the options below:

“Radical” and “symbolic” interactionism: Demarcating their borders

Radical Interactionism on the Rise

ISBN: 978-1-78190-784-9, eISBN: 978-1-78190-785-6

Publication date: 16 October 2013


In this chapter, the approach of radical interactionism is juxtaposed against symbolic interactionism, its older conservative turned rival cousin, to highlight primarily the major differences between them. The five key differences identified are as follows: (1) the major progenitors for symbolic interactionism are Mead and Blumer, while those for radical interactionism are Park and, by default, myself; (2) although radical interactionism presumes that domination and power are always of great importance for understanding human group life, symbolic interactionism assumes that they now have only limited importance for understanding it; (3) radical interactionism makes it mandatory for researchers to examine the role of dominance and power during social interaction, whereas symbolic interactionism makes it only discretionary; (4) while radical interactionism stresses the impact of individuals’ and groups’ unstated assumptions on their interaction with one another, symbolic interactionism de-emphasizes their impact on it; and finally (5) radical interactionism discourages, while symbolic interactionism encourages researchers falling into the trap of linguistic phenomenalism. Thus, unlike radical interactionism, symbolic interactionism facilitates sociologists not only falling prey to linguistic phenomenalism, but also conservative and idealistic biases, while allegedly conducting “value-free research.”




A shorter version of this article was presented at the Fourth Annual Meeting of the European Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction held at the University of Uppsala in Sweden on August 28–30, 2013. I would like to thank the meeting's organizers, especially Professor Vessela Misheva, for inviting me to deliver a keynote address.


Athens, L.H. (2013), "“Radical” and “symbolic” interactionism: Demarcating their borders", Radical Interactionism on the Rise (Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 41), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-24.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013 Emerald Group Publishing Limited