Life is a Stage and all of us are Merely Players, Acting out our Parts Symbolic interactionism is one of the leading sociological theories having a long intellectual history dating back to the American philosopher George Herbert Mead. Symbolic interactionism centers on the study of connections between the individual (micro-level) and larger social structures. The goal of symbolic interactionism is to illustrate how shared meaning is created. The theory explains that we all have our own sense of what is real and what is not and that we acquire these symbols of reality from or interactions with others.
In sum, the theory suggests that we modify these meanings in our mind and then act based on the symbols of reality that we have constructed. The Starbucks at Carleton University inside the MacOdrum Library was busy in the late afternoon of Tuesday the 17th of November. Upon entering the Starbucks, I decided to sit at a booth toward the front of the restaurant with my back against the wall. This position allowed me to observe the socialization amongst patrons waiting in line, the exchange between patrons and baristas and to observe patrons sitting throughout the Starbucks.
There was a constant stream of students and university staff members waiting in line to be served by the Starbucks baristas. The tables and booths were regularly full, consisting of some people chatting with friends while others were working on homework or just reading. Starbucks provided a cozy atmosphere for both students and staff members, Christmas music was played in the background throughout the day. The cafe was surrounded by windows allowing for natural light to shine in and for people to look in and out of the Starbucks.
The seating arrangement consisted of a variety of ooths and sofas as well as group tables and bar tables, allowing the opportunity for productivity and socialization amongst individuals and group members. I chose the Starbucks inside the MacOdrum Library as the site of my observation because it was a common place of socialization and social gathering. Through my observations I was able to observe the social interactions amongst patrons as well as patrons and baristas. Starbucks was an ideal site to observe social interaction due to the lively activity taking place, allowing for uninterrupted observation and my note taking to be nonintrusive.
Moreover, I was able to blend in with the crowd and minimize any reactivity— “reactivity occurs when the presence of a researcher causes the observed people to conceal certain things or act artificially to impress the researcher”(Brym; pp. 56). It is important to note that people interacted with each other for a prolonged period of time, thereby behaving as they normally would. I chose Starbucks because it provided the opportunity to observe micro-level interaction (i. e. ace-to-face interaction), allowing me to question and draw conclusions on how individuals communicate so as to make their social setting meaningful. This site also allowed me to observe forms of communication such as, symbols, gestures, language, and nonverbal communication. Moreover, I was able to observe patterns of role taking and role play amongst patrons and between patrons and baristas. Through my observation of social interaction at Starbucks, a question arose regarding the connotations attached to the Starbucks “label”.
That being, Starbucks holds both an “elite” and “cool” status, in which there is a certain type of meaning attached to Starbucks. This status is associated with prestige and wealth due to the pricey beverages and products being sold. In addition, there is the notion that Starbucks is the place to be and if you go or purchase products from there then you are considered “cool. ” Moreover, this status is a type of non-verbal social communication. This social question is associated with status and social position which takes the form of status cues, which are visual indicators of a person’s social position.
This type of “status” can cause one to develop a self image—which consists of one’s ideas and attitudes of who they are, in which they perceive themselves as holding more status than those who do not go to Starbucks. In the midst of observing social interaction, I searched for patterns of social norms as well as potential paths to social solidarity within a taken-for-granted activity. A potential path to social solidarity as well as a social norm that I observed was a form of role performance in which every person acted according to their status and roles.
By doing so, each patrons would act in accordance with the surrounding culture, that being the culture of Starbucks. For example, if a patron entered Starbucks, they would stand in line, place their order, wait for their order, and then either leave Starbucks or take a seat by themselves or with friends. These norms aided in the groups solidarity because it allowed for expected behavior and response. During the process of observing and documenting details | found choosing what was worth documenting during the social interactions being observed, to be challenging.
I found it challenging because I had never preformed a task like this and I was not exactly sure which specific interactions would be pivotal to my analysis. Assembling my field notes into complete sentences that made sense proved to be difficult, in that many of my observations made more sense in thought than in writing. Moreover, trying to avoid contextualizing people’s activities, symbols and gestures was another difficult task for me as well. During my time at Starbucks I did not observe any surprising behavior.
All patrons and baristas that I observed behaved as one would expect within a social setting, as well as the patrons interacting with one another. For instance, everyone standing in line was polite and courteous to on another even though there was a ng line at the order counter. However, it was interesting to note that the majority of patrons who bought coffee were in a hurry to leave while those staying in Starbucks for a prolonged period of time either made no purchase or had made a single earlier purchase of beverages or food.
I chose Symbolic Interactionism as the sociological perspective to help frame my observations. Symbolic interactionism, “focuses on interactions in microlevel social settings and emphasizes than an adequate explanation of social behaviour requires understanding the subjective meaning people attach to their social circumstances” (Brym: pp. 22). This framework was established by George Herbert Mead in the early 1900’s in which he was the driving force behind the study of the individual’s sense of self that is formed in the course of interacting with others.
According to Mead, “we learn who we are by taking the role of other people as we interact with them and by seeing ourselves as they see us” (Brym: pp. 21). In addition, Erving Goffman developed one of the most popular variants to symbolic interactionism, known as dramatical analysis, which “views social interaction as a sort of play in which people present themselves so that they appear in the best light” (Brym: pp. 129). Dramatical analysis is based on the notion that people play roles in their daily lives, much in the same way actors on stage play roles.