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Theoretical Treatments of Symbolic Interactionism
In order to develop a deeper understanding of sociological theories designed to describe the complexities of the cognitive process, it is essential to identify tangible examples of these as they are manifested in the real world. The concept of symbolic interactionism, while carrying varying connotations depending on the distinct school of sociological thought one embraces, is generally agreed to describe the empirical analysis of three simple premises, "that human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them & #8230; that the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with his environment & #8230; (and) that these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters" (Blumer, 1986). While this technical definition is sufficient in relating the scope and intent of this branch of sociological thought, truly understanding the import of symbolic interactionism as it pertains to societal behavior requires a deeper investigation into the observable implications of the theory. By examining the predominant theoretical treatments associated with symbolic interactionism through the lens of an extremely prevalent and well-documented example of the phenomenon which occurs daily in the real world -- the biased manipulation and false interpretation of news media reports -- one can gain a clearer comprehension of the ways in which this foundational branch of sociological theory dictates relations between races, classes and other social constructs.
Whenever the average person views media content produced and delivered by major news networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, and their locally affiliated stations, there is a tacit expectation that all broadcasted content is ostensibly objective and clear of prejudice or bias. While the ascendency of opinion-based "news" debate programs has resulted in sharp increase in the rate of editorializing performed by the era's major news networks, traditional "hard" news reporters are still expected to depict and discuss current events while refraining from the temptation to inject the broadcast with their own personal views. A comprehensive random content analysis of television news programming -- conducted by researchers Travis L. Dixon and Daniel Linz in the Los Angeles metropolitan area -- revealed that, despite the prevailing notion of impartiality when it comes to the nightly news, "Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely than Whites to be portrayed as lawbreakers on television news & #8230; [and] are more likely to be portrayed as lawbreakers than defenders" (2000). By subjecting the statistical evidence regarding crime rates for each racial group throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties to a rigorous comparative analysis, Dixon and Linz observed that minority groups are vastly overrepresented in terms of their portrayal as criminals, while Whites are significantly underrepresented in relation to the legitimate commission of crimes. This startling trend is a tangible manifestation of symbolic interactionism, as the term was originally conceived by sociological theorist George Herbert Meade to describe the phenomenon of human beings ascribing meaning to things and people they interact with-based predominately on their previous social interactions.
Due to the irrefutable fact that a clear majority of Anglo-Americans, through no conscious fault of their own, have previously consumed countless examples of news media reports presenting minority groups as comprised mainly of lawbreakers and criminals, they have become psychologically conditioned to expect comparable portrayals to reoccur, and their ability to critically examine the veracity of these scenes has been severely eroded as the process becomes more deeply engrained over time. By conducting an objective content analysis of three hard news stories broadcast locally or nationally within the last year, using the same methodology employed by Dixon and Linz, it is possible to independently confirm their conclusion that "interrole comparison revealed that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to appear as perpetrators than as officers, whereas the opposite is true for Whites" (2000). The sociological implications of this trend will also be further examined, in an effort to determine what effect the marginalization of minorities by the news media has on the average person who is subject to the effects of symbolic interactionism.
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