Social Interaction and Social Relationship

To understand socialorganizations in a society, sociologists study social structures and thefunction of social events and processes. This involves studying socialinteraction and relationships at broader (macro) and micro levels. Social interactionand relationship may be studied as they occur between the whole societies linkedin the world system down to those between two individuals. Here our focus is onsocial interaction and relationship in the everyday life of individuals.

Individuals are the maincomponents of society; they make up the building blocks; as, in a veryimportant sense, society is the product of the actions of individuals. We may furtherstate that society is a representation of the collective behavior of individualactors. It is the product of decisions people make concerning when, how, andwith whom they are going to interact. However, individuals are social actorswho act in a social environment; their social interactions are influenced bythe social environment and existing social pattern. In other words, the actionsof individuals are not haphazard ones; they take place in patterned relationships.

Socialrelationship refers to any routinized, enduring patterns of socialinteractions between individuals in society under the limits and influences ofthe social structure. The term “social relationship” elicits two importantquestions: between whom does social relationship take place? About what aresocial relationships? Answers to these questions lead us to the concepts ofsocial status and role (Henslin and Nelson, 1995).

Social Status and Social Roles

The Conceptand Types of Social Status

In the social structure of asociety or a group, there are various defined positions to be occupied by agroup of individuals. This position in termed as socialstatus. It is the position or rank a person or a group of persons occupy inthe social system. Some of these positions are naturally given and they arecalled ascribed social status. They are acquired by birth. For example, being a maleor female, boy or girl, black or white person, son or daughter, father ormother, etc. Some positions in society are to be attained by competitions,making efforts, commitments, choices, decisions, and other mechanisms. Suchkinds of status are called achieved statuses. Examples include being a husband or wife, a student orteacher, a physician, a nurse, an athlete, etc.

However, there are some of thestatuses which may be both ascribed and achieved. For example, one can be aNigerian by birth or through other mechanisms.

Achieved social status may beregarded as the characteristics of modern, industrial societies. In a traditionalsociety, most social statuses are naturally acquired. E.g. a potter family mayproduce potter son or daughter. But in modern society, this is not usually the case.

Every person has at least twosocial statuses. A person, for example, may be at the same time a student, a daughter,a mother, an employee, etc. Of these various statuses, one or two may be moredominant than others.

The most dominant of all iscalled a salient status. It is thatwhich defines a person’s position in most cases at most occasions Calhoun etal., 1994; Rosenberg, 1987; Stockard, 1997).

The Concept of Social Roles

Socialroles are the expectations, duties, responsibilities, obligations, etc, whichare associated with a given social status. Every person/ group of persons is/ areexpected to behave, act and demonstrate skills, knowledge and attitude that arefitting to the given status or statuses. Every person is expected to play twoor more roles.

Multiple statuses are associatedwith multiple roles. The different roles associated with a single status arecalled role set. Sometimes, there are role conflicts, meaning theclashing of one role with the other. These role conflicts may be inter-role, i.e.conflict between two or more roles. There are also intra-roleconflicts, i.e. conflicts that occur when a person feels strains and inadequaciesin accomplishing a certain role, or when there is a gap between what a persondoes and what a group expects of him or her. Intra-role conflict may also becalled role strain. In other words, there is a clash between ideal role, that which aperson is expected to perform theoretically, and actualrole, that a person accomplishes according to his or her level of understanding,capacity and personality.

Social Interaction in Everyday Life

Micro-sociology focuses onunderstanding and analyzing the processes and dynamics of social interaction ineveryday life. Social interaction may simply mean what people do when they arein the presence of one another. Four symbolic interactionist micro-sociologicalperspectives are developed to understand social interaction in everyday life(Henslin  and Nelson, 1995). These are:

1.      Symbolic Interaction:

Symbolic interactionism as indicatedearlier focuses on social interaction as the most significant part of life insociety. What interest scholars in this perspective are symbols people use todefine their worlds. Here, three important concepts are used to explain thesymbolic basis and nature of social interaction; these are: stereotypesin every day life, personal space, and touching.

  • Stereotypes in Everyday Life: Stereotypesare the assumptions we have about people; they determine and shape ourreactions and behaviors towards people. Our first impressions about people areshaped by the assumptions we make about such characteristics as the person’s sex,age, skin color, physical appearance, social status, etc. The assumptions notonly influence our ideas about the person, but the way we interact with thatperson.
  • Personal space: Individuals have, and maintain,an important sense of personal space in social interaction; every person hasthus personal space. Our personal spaces are open to only those whom we areintimate with such as children, parents, close friends and spouses. Otherwise,we keep others out of this personal space making sure that we do not touch, andare touched by, others. Anthropological research findings show that the use ofpersonal space varies form culture to culture; four different distance zonesare identified, for example, as used in North America (Ibid). These are:
    • Intimate Distance (50 centimeter from our bodies;reserved for lovemaking, wrestling, comforting, protecting, etc.);
    • Personal Distance (extends from 50 centimeter to120 centimeter surrounding our bodies; these spaces are reserved for friends, acquaintancesand conversations)
    • Social Distance (extends from 120 centimeter to3.6 meters for impersonal or formal relationships; e.g., for job interviews);and
    • Public Distance (this zone extends from 3.6meters; it marks a more formal relationship. This is used to separate dignitariesand public speakers from the general public.)
  • Touching: Each society has rules about touching in socialinteraction. Frequency of touching and the meaning people attach to it varybetween and within cultures. However, in impersonal social interactions, higherstatus individuals are more likely to touch those of lower status; e.g. teacherhis/ her students; a boss his secretary, etc.

2.      Dramaturgy:

Symbolic integrationists use theterm “dramaturgy” to refer to the way individuals present themselves in everydaylife. The term was coined by sociologist Erving Goffman (1922 – 1982) to referto dramaturgical analysis of how people act and behave in social situations. Thus,social life is likened to a drama or stage. Individuals are born into the stageof everyday life. Our everyday social life consists of playing our assignedroles. Every person learns how to perform in the stage. Our everyday life isfilled with stages where we perform; each person is expected to play his/ herdrama taking many roles; e.g. a student, a wife, a mother, a daughter, aworker, etc. The actions and roles played on the stage are called role performances(Ibid.).

3.      Ethno-methodology:

This literally means the studyof people’s methods. Ethno-methodologists study how people make senseof life. Ethno-methodology involves uncovering people’s basic assumptions as theyinterpret their everyday world. Sociologists like

Harold Garfinkel (who coined theterm) have made extensive studies of how people use commonsense understandingsto make sense out of their lives. What form the bases of social interaction inour everyday life are the assumptions individual actors have about the way lifeis and they way things ought to work (Ibid.)

4.      The Social Construction of Reality:

Symbolic interactionists argue thatindividuals define their own reality and try to live according that definition.Reality is not something that exists “out there”, independently. It is createdsocially. By “social construction of reality“, we mean the process by which wetake the various elements available in our society and put them together toform a particular view of reality. Every individual’s definition of realities derivesfrom his/ her society’s own definition. The definitions we learn from ourcultures form the basis of not only what we do, but also what we perceive, feelor think.

  • Whatis social relationship?
  • Explainthe following statement: “No one enjoys aloneness.”
  • Mentionand discuss the four key concepts developed by symbolic interactionists toanalyze the nature of social interaction in everyday life.
  • Differentiatebetween intra-social and inter-socialrole conflicts. Explaincases of, if any, inter-social role and intra-socialrole conflicts you have encountered. Have theseconflicts had any negative impact on your health?How?

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