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Charles Horton Cooley and the Symbolic Interactionism Theory

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    Charles Horton Cooley and the Symbolic Interactionism Theory Should we associate the abandonment of ‘self’ with symbolic interactionism? Do you feel the need to ‘change your stripes’ to fit in with society? ‘An individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when regarded as something apart from individuals….

    Society and individuals do not denote separable phenomena, but are simply collective and distributive aspects of the same thing…’ (Thomas Francis O’Dea) In this aspect of his theory, Charles Horton Cooley, a symbolic interactionist, concluded that our sense of ’self’ develops from interactions with others. Cooley described this process as the looking -glass self. The looking- glass self consists of three principle elements. We first imagine how we appear to those around us. We may feel that others see us as monotonous or quiet.

    Therefore, we try to interpret the reactions of others when we are around them to confirm if what we think is true. If others seem to avoid you or go out of their way to make sure you don‘t see them at all, your typical assumption would be that they have seen or heard something to turn them off from wanting to be an acquaintance of yours . Secondly, in order of the concept, one imagines the judgment that others may be making regarding that appearance. In other words, how their actions must look to those observing.

    If someone saw another person walking down the street with all sorts of colors in their hair, one must wonder what compelled them to do such a thing. But if that person turns around with the crazy hair that’s out of the norm and on their shirt it says, ‘I am doing what I want to my hair before chemo takes it from me,’ then there you go. Judgment served. Lastly, how Cooley put down in words the symbolic interactionism theory was how one feels, either prideful or mortified, about appearances and other judgments of that imagined appearance.

    People changing themselves or even rebelling against change due to the judgments of others they interact with. A great portion of peoples ‘identities’ are based on speech sounding ignorant or illiterate, appearance with baggy clothes, ripped jeans, a face piercing, or tattoos. Actions are another way people can be judged, or even down to what their beliefs are. With that stated above, I will explain my reaction to the theory. Cooley states that “ a person’s self grows out of a person’s commerce with others. ” (Coser) Well, doesn’t that create a society?

    A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. (Wikipedia) So where does an image come from that the society can agree on and want to make ‘theirs‘? How do they want others to perceive them? From one person? In my bluntness, I deem most individuals are afraid to express their own opinion. Almost to the point of creating a ’free market’ idea on the concept of opinion.

    One person comes up with the opinion and the rest of society, if they feel it is not harmful to themselves, goes along with the insight not speaking up to change or viewing a different insight. This creates separate subcultures in society such as the “punk” subculture or the “thug” subculture. Because one person thought of the idea to shave both sides of the head and spike the middle and color it blue for an outrageous reaction, others who were intrigued by the idea and wanted to express them selves with out being an individual but being an individual ’society’.

    Within the ’thug’ subculture, most people on the outside decipher them by wearing their clothes too big. Is that the right way to pick them out? If it is, than how do today’s youth in middle class suburbia sport that style, they have never lived in the ghetto and experienced things like supposed genuine thugs have. In this manner people’s individual self’s have come from whom they interact with supporting Cooley’s theory. The only problem with this idea is that it leaves the idea of originality to be an outcast on society. Being different from every one is a call for prejudice, harassment, and not being part of the societies typical norms.

    We should be able to see a person for their general or master accomplishments and their abilities…not if the society excepts them as an individual. The theory it self is an outline for and how to make someone an outcast. If a person comes along and is living in society and doesn’t bother too much about his appearance or materialistic things, is he/she an outcast. By Cooley’s theory he/she is an out cast because in his theory he states, ‘The imagination of our appearance to the other person, the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification. (Coser) If this individual chooses to believe and go by what he wants and not what the society wants him to go by, he is shunned and considered an outcast, when in actuality society is the outcast for trying to be like every one else. Cooley also states that ‘If…we say that society is an organism, we mean…that it is a complex of forms of processes each of which is living and growing by interaction with the others, the whole being so unified that what takes place in one part affects all the rest. It is a vast tissue of reciprocal activity. (Coser) In this part of his theory I interpreted it as if we deny the chance for your individual to grow we deny our society to grow and vice versa. With this part of the theory I agree. An example of this is teen pregnancy. If you got pregnant in the 1950’s you were considered soiled and excluded, but as it got more common in society people began to accept it more. Now if you get pregnant as a teenager it is almost like a cultural norm. In that aspect changing people and their values has changed society and their values.

    You can’t change one with out changing the other. Now with that into consideration, to change society you would just have to change the individuals idea’s, but they get their ideas from society. So how do you change society? Well Cooley said “ Our life is one human whole, and if we are to have any real knowledge of it we must see it as such. If we cut it up it dies in the process. ” (Cohen, Marshall J. ) In this part of the theory I think he is trying to conclude that dissecting too far into the relationship of an individual and society is just impossible.

    That while you are looking for the connection, you will lose your connection with society, and in conclusion have self abandonment. Life is full of mystery and surprise, to find all the answers would just ruin life. There would be nothing else for you to look for while you live. I hope that when my life flashes before my eyes that, Cooley’s theory proves false: that I am the exception to the cultural norm. Bibliography: “Charles Horton Cooley 1864-1929 | Bolender. com. ” Welcome to Bolender Initiatives | Bolender. om. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. . “Charles Horton Cooley 1864-1929 | Bolender. com. ” Welcome to Bolender Initiatives | Bolender. com. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. . “Charles Horton Cooley 1864-1929 | Bolender. com. ” Welcome to Bolender Initiatives | Bolender. com. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. . “Cooley, Charles Horton. ” Info:Main Page – New World Encyclopedia. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. . “Society. ” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. . “WHAT SOCIOLOGY HAS TO OFFER. ” Office of Information Technologies. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. .

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