March 7, 1900|
St. Louis, Missouri
|Died||April 13, 1987
|Main interests||Sociology, symbolic interactionism, sociological research methods|
Herbert George Blumer (March 7, 1900 – April 13, 1987) was an American sociologist whose main scholarly interests were symbolic interactionism and methods of social research. Believing that individuals create their own social reality through collective and individual action, he was an avid interpreter and proponent of George Herbert Mead’s work on symbolic interactionism. Blumer eventually became the leading symbolic interactionist of his time and wrote the book Symbolic Interactionism, which is known as the clearest theoretical statement of symbolic interactionism. An ongoing theme throughout his work, he argued that the creation of social reality is a continuous process. Blumer was most scrutinized for his negative critiques of positivistic social research.
- 1 Personal history
- 1.1 Professional football career
- 1.2 Intellectual contributions
- 1.3 Methodological contributions to sociology
- 1.4 Relationship with George Herbert Mead
- 1.5 Quotes
- 1.6 Major works
- 1.7 Other works
- 1.8 Scholarly critiques of Blumer
- 1.9 Notes
- 1.10 Further reading
- 1.11 External links
|Center / Guard / Tackle|
|High school: Webster Groves (MO)|
|Debuted in 1925 for the Chicago Cardinals|
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
|Stats at DatabaseFootball.com|
Blumer was born March 7, 1900 in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, with his parents and attended Webster Groves High School and later the University of Missouri from 1918 to 1922. Upon graduating, Blumer secured a teaching position at the University of Missouri. Recently after, in 1925, he relocated to the University of Chicago, a university where he was greatly influenced by the social psychologist George Herbert Mead and sociologists W. I. Thomas and Robert Park. Upon completing his doctorate in 1928, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago, where he continued his own research and the work of Mead. Blumer taught at this institution from 1927-1952.
Blumer was the secretary treasurer of the American Sociological Association from 1930–1935 and was the editor of the American Journal of Sociology from 1941-1952. In 1952, he moved from the University of Chicago and presided and developed the newly formed Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1952, he became the president of the American Sociological Association and he received the association's award for a Career of Distinguished Scholarship in 1983. Blumer served as the 46th president of the American Sociological Association and his Presidential Address was his paper "Sociological Analysis and the 'Variable'". Herbert Blumer died on April 13, 1987.
Professional football career
During much of the period that Blumer was at the University of Chicago from, 1925 through 1933, including all of the years that he was completing his doctorate, Blumer played football professionally for the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), a team in the American Professional Football Association which would later become the NFL. Blumer played as an end, guard and a series of other positions. During his first year of his doctorate, he also scored two touchdowns for the Cardinals. During that season, the Cardinals won the league championship—although that victory remains controversial due to the disqualification of the Pottsville Maroons, a team with a better record. Blumer was selected to the 1929 All-Pro Team.
Although Blumer devised the term symbolic interactionism in 1969, the early development of this theoretical approach to social analysis is largely credited to the work of George Herbert Mead during his time at the University of Chicago. Blumer presented his articles on symbolic interactionism in a single volume in which he conceptualized symbolic interaction into three main points:
- Humans act towards things (including other individuals) on the basis of the meanings they have for them.
- There is a particular emphasis on the consciousness of actors as they interpret their actions.
- It is important to recognize that the meaning or value of an object to one person may differ with another person- sociologists should not reduce human action to social rules and norms.
- Blumer stresses this point because of the fear that our subjective meaning of our actions could be overshadowed by the norms and rules of society
- The meaning of things arises out of the social interactions one has with one's fellows.
- The meaning of something is a social product, therefore it is not inherent in things.
- Meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process a person uses in dealing with the things he or she encounters.
- Meanings are seen as a series of interpretive actions by the actor.
- The actor gives objects meanings, act accordingly based on these meanings, and then revises the meanings to guide his future action.
- The actor has an internal conversation with himself to determine the meanings, especially when encountering something out of the ordinary.
Blumer believed that what creates society itself is people engaging in social interaction. It follows then that social reality only exists in the context of the human experience. His theory of symbolic interaction, some argue, is thus closer to a theoretical framework (based on the significance of meanings and the interaction between individuals) than an applicable theory.
According to Blumer's theory, interaction between individuals is based on autonomous action, which in turn is based on the subjective meaning actors attribute to social objects and/or symbols. Thus individual actors regulate their behavior based on the meaning they attribute to objects and symbols in their relevant situation. Blumer theorized that assigning objects meaning is an ongoing, two-fold process. First, is the identification of the objects that have situational meaning. Second, is the process of internal communication to decide which meaningful object to respond to. Acknowledging that others are equally autonomous, individuals use their subjectively derived interpretations of others (as social objects) to predict the outcome of certain behaviors, and use such predictive insight to make decisions about their own behavior in the hopes of reaching their goal. Thus, when there is consensus among individual actors about the meaning of the objects that make up their situation, social coordination ensues. Social structures are determined as much by the action of individual actors as they determine the action of those individuals. Based on this, Blumer believed that society exists only as a set of potentials, or ideas that people could possibly use in the future.
This complex interaction between meanings, objects, and behaviors, Blumer reiterated, is a uniquely human process because it requires behavioral responses based on the interpretation of symbols, rather than behavioral responses based on environmental stimuli. As social life is a "fluid and negotiated process," to understand each other, humans must intrinsically engage in symbolic interaction. Blumer criticized the contemporary social science of his day because instead of using symbolic interactionism they made false conclusions about humans by reducing human decisions to social pressures like social positions and roles.
Blumer's 3 types of objects
Blumer defined objects as the things "out there" in the world. The significance of objects is how they are defined by the actor-different objects have different meanings depending on the individual.
- Physical (a chair, a tree)
- Social (student, mother, friend)
- Abstract (ideas or moral principals) 
Summary principles of symbolic interactionism
- Human beings are capable of thought.
- This capacity for thought is shaped by social interaction.
- We learn the meanings and the symbols through social interaction, exercising the human capacity for thought.
- These meanings and symbols provide the basis for distinctive human action and interaction.
- Modification of meanings and symbols occur through the interpretation of situations.
- Humans' capability of modification is due to their ability to interact with themselves.
- The intertwining of interaction and action make up groups and societies.
Methodological contributions to sociology
According to Herbert Blumer, the most valid and desirable social research is conducted through qualitative, ethnographic methodology. He persistently critiqued the idea that that the only form of valid knowledge is derived through a totally objective perspective. As this directly challenges the thought process of traditional, positivism-based approach to sociological method, much controversy surrounds Blumer’s sociological approach to empirical research.
Blumer believed that when positivistic methods were applied to social research, they created results that were ignorant to the empirical realties of the social world. Because people act towards the world based on the subjective meanings they attribute to different objects (symbolic interactionism), individuals construct worlds that are inherently subjective. Therefore "objective" analysis is intrinsically subjugated to the researcher's own social reality, only documents the researchers own grotesque personal assumptions about social interaction, and ultimately yields bias findings. For a researcher to truly understand sociological phenomena, Blumer asserted, they must understand their subject’s subjective interpretations of reality.
Following this logic, Blumer discounted social research that blindly applies methods that have been traditionally used in the natural sciences. Such quantitative, objective analysis, he argued, does not acknowledge the difference between humans and animals – specifically the difference in cognitive ability to consciously entertain opinions and to apply meanings to objects, both which enables humans to take an active role in shaping their world. Because society is composed of interactions between individuals or "joint actions", the only empirical reality is that which stems from human interaction. Therefore contextual understanding of human action is intrinsic to valid social research.
Thus Blumer advocated for sociological research that sympathetically and subjectively incorporates the viewpoints of the subject, therefore pushing for a micro-sociological approach. Concluding that there is little validity in research that attempted to understand the social world objectively, Blumer felt that objective interpretations of society are intrinsically bias to the researchers social location and thus have little empirical value. To truthfully uncover the social realities of individuals different from one's self, an observer must be mindful of their framework and be open to different understanding of social reality.
Macrostructures and microstructures
Blumer believed that society is not made up of macrostructures, but rather that the essence of society is found in microstructures, specifically in actors and their actions. These microstructures are not isolated, but consist of the collective action of combination, giving rise to the concept of joint action. Joint action is not just the sum of individual actions, but takes on a character of its own. Blumer did not reject the idea of macrostructures, but instead focused on the concept of emergence-our larger social structures emerge from the smaller. Also, he did not deny systems such as culture and social order. In sum, Blumer said that large scale structures are the frameworks for what is crucial in society, action and interaction. He is not denying that social structures influence our actions, just that they do not determine our actions.
Techniques Blumer advocated
- Direct observation of social life
- Interviewing and listening to people's conversations
- Listening to the radio and watching television
- Reading newspapers
- Reading diaries, letter, and other written life histories
- Reading public records
- Finding well-informed participants 
Sociological analysis and the "Variable"
In 1952, Herbert Blumer became President of the American Sociological Association and his Presidential Address was his paper "Sociological Analysis and the 'Variable'. In this paper, Blumer addresses the shortcomings with variable analysis that he sees in social research. Herbert Blumer says "there is a conspicuous absence of rules, guides, limitations and prohibitions to govern the choice of variables." Overall he felt that variable analysis needed to be looked at more carefully and precisely to see if the variables are correct and connected to the social research at hand.
- Generic variables Blumer does not find generic:
- The frequent variable that stands for a class of object that is tied down to a given historical and cultural situation.
- Abstract sociological categories. Example- "social integration"
- Special set of class terms. Examples- "Age, time, authority"
Blumer believed these shortcomings are serious but not crucial, and that with increase experience they can be overcome. This address was meant to question how well does variable analysis is suited to the study of human group life in its fuller dimensions."
Blumer's criticisms of Thomas and Znaniecki
In 1939, Blumer published Critiques of Research in the Social Sciences: An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, criticizing what at the time was a popular social theory. Blumer claimed that Thomas and Znaniecki failed to properly distinguish between attitude as subjective and value as a societal collective element. He said they used the terms interchangeably, and therefore making the theory unreliable. It is difficult to disentangle subjective factors and objective correlates because the objective world is dealt with only to the extent that it enters subjective experiences. Blumer said,
- "This scheme declares that a value playing upon a pre-existing attitude gives rise to a new attitude, or an attitude playing upon a pre-existing value gives rise to a new value. With terms that are uncertain and not clearly disjunctive, the presumed causal relation becomes suspect."
In conclusion, Blumer recognized that in society there was no clear distinction between attitude and value, and that even social theorists have difficulty distinguishing between the two.
Based on the work of Robert E. Park, Blumer, in a 1939 article, called to attention a new subfield of sociology: collective behavior. This now developed area of inquiry is devoted to the exploration of collective action and behavior that is not yet organized under an institutional structure or formation. Blumer was particularly interested in the spontaneous collective coordination that occurs when something that is unpredicted disrupt standardized group behavior. He saw the combination of events that follows such phenomena as a key factor in society's ongoing transformation.
Relationship with George Herbert Mead
Blumer is well known for his connection with the famous sociologist George Herbert Mead. Blumer was a follower of Mead's work on symbolic interactionism and Mead heavily influenced his work. Mead bequeathed the subject field of social psychology to Blumer. One important aspect Blumer learned from Mead was that in order for us to understand the meaning of social actions, we must put ourselves in the others' shoes to truly understand what social symbols they feel to be important. However, Blumer did deviate from Mead's work. Blumer was a proponent of a more micro-focused approach to sociology and focused on the subjective consciousness and symbolic meanings of individuals.
- "The full expanse of human action isn't just following pre-established rules and patterns. New situations arise constantly." 
- "Repetitive and standard actions are just as much the product of an interpretative process as are the ones based on creative thinking. It's social action that upholds the rules, not the rules which uphold the social action." 
- "New joint action always arise out of a background of previous actions. We can't slice off a given action from its historical linkages." 
- The nature of an object...consists of the meaning that is has for the person for whom it is as object." 
- Concerning the term self, "Nothing esoteric is meant by this expression. It merely means that a human being can be an object of his own action...he acts towards himself and guides himself in his actions towards others on the basis of the kind of object he is to himself." 
- “Sociological Analysis and the "Variable"” pp. 683–690 in American Sociological Review, Vol 21, No. 6. (Dec., 1956)
- Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method (1969)
- Critiques of Research in the Social Sciences: An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1939)
- George Herbert Mead and Human Conduct (2004)
- "Movies and Conduct" (1933)
One of Blumer's best-known studies, "Movies and Conduct" (1933), was part of the Payne Fund research project. The project, which included more than 18 social scientists who produced eleven published reports, was initiated out of fear about effect movies might have on children and young adults. Blumer thus conducted an ethnographic, qualitative study on more than fifteen hundred college and high school students by asking them to write autobiographies of their movie-going experiences. His findings were that children and young adult spectators reported that they learned from movies life skills such as attitudes, hairstyles, how to kiss, and even how to pickpocket.
- Movies, Delinquency, and Crime (1933)
- The Human Side of Social Planning (1935)
- "Social Psychology", Chapter 4 in Emerson Peter Schmidt (ed.) Man and Society: A Substantive Introduction to the Social Science. New York, Prentice-Hall (1937)
- "Sociological Theory in Industrial Relations", pp. 271–278 in American Sociological Review, Vol. 12, No. 3 (1947)
- "Collective Behavior." pp. 166–222. New Outline of the Principles of Sociology, ed. A. M. Lee. New York: Barnes & Noble. (1951)
Scholarly critiques of Blumer
Theory of symbolic interaction
- Too subjective
- Too much emphasis on day-to-day life and the social formation of the individual while ignoring social structure.
- Symbolic interactionism deflects attention away from the impact social structures (like the state, culture, and the economy) have on individual behavior
- Tended to ignore class relations and the restraints brought about by differing social classes.
Perspective of empirical research
- Methodological contributions are hard to implement in practice
- Since Blumer rejected the behaviorist approach to the study of meaning, societal research within a symbolic interactionist framework poses empirical challenges
- Hermert Blumer (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. p. vii.
- Morrione, Thomas (Spring 1988). "Herbert G. Blumer (1900-1987): A Legacy of Concepts, Criticisms, and Contributions". Symbolic Interaction. 1,. 11,Special Issue on Herbert Blumer's Legacy: 1–12.
- Shibutani, Tamotsu (Spring 1988). "Blumer's Contributions to Twentieth-Century Sociology". Symbolic Interaction 11 (1, Special Issue on Herbert Blumer's Legacy): 23–31.
- Mann, Douglass. Understanding Society: A Survey of Modern Social Theory. Oxford University Press. 2008
- George Ritzer (1996). Classical Sociological Theory. McGraw Hill Companies. p. 59.
- Calvin J. Larson (1986). Sociological Theory from the Enlightenment to the Present. General Hall, Inc. p. 91.
- Eta Gerhardt. Ambivalent Interactionist: Anselm Strauss and the "Schools" of Chicago Sociology. p. 7.
- Blumer, Herbert. "Herbert Blumer". Presidents of ASA. American Sociological Association. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Cf. Herbert Blumer, 1928, Method in Social Psychology, Ph. D. Dissertation, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Chicago.
- Blumer, Herbert. "Herb Blumer, E at NFL.com". Player Statistics. NFL Enterprises LLC. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Blumer, Herbert. "Herb Blumer NFL Football Statistics". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
- Dingwall, Robert (2001). "Notes Toward an Intellectual History of Symbolic Interactionism". Symbolic Interaction. 2 24: 237–242.
- James Farganis (2008). Readings in Social Theory. McGraw Hill Companies. p. 331.
- Snow, David (2001). "Extending and Broadening Blumer's Conceptualization of Symbolic Interactionism". Symbolic Interaction. 3 24: 367–377.
- Calvin J. Larson (1986). Sociological Theory from the Enlightenment to the Present. General Hall, Inc. p. 143.
- Borgatta, Edgar (2000). New York: Macmillan References USA. ISBN 0-02-865899-X. Missing or empty
- Low, Jacqueline (2008). "Structure, Agency, and Social Reality in Blumerian Symbolic Interactionism: The Influence of Georg Simmel". Symbolic Interaction 31 (3): 325–343.
- Allan, Kenneth. Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World. Pine Forge Press. 2005
- Ritzer, George. Sociological Theory. McGraw-Hill. 2011.
- Wellman, David (1988). "The Politics of Herbert Blumer's Sociological Method". Symbolic Interaction 11 (1, Special Issue on Herbert Blumer's Legacy): 59–68.
- Cf. Kuwabara, T., and K. Yamaguchi, 2013, An Introduction to the Sociological Perspective of Symbolic Interactionism: Revised Edition, Journal of Economics and Sociology, Kagoshima University, 80, pp. 118-119.
- Blumer, Herbert. "Sociological Analysis and the "Variable"". Official Journal of the American Sociological Society. American Sociological Review. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
- Coser, Lewis A. (1977). Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in the Historical and Sociological Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jonanovich. ISBN 0-15-555130-2.
- Herbert Blumer (1939). An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. NY: Social Science Research Council. p. 26.
- Herbert Blumer (1933). Movies and Conduct. NY: Macmillan & Company Council. p. 192.
- James Farganis (2008). Readings in Social Theory. McGraw Hill Companies. p. 332.
- Baugh, Kenneth, Jr. (1990). The Methodology of Herbert Blumer. ISBN 0-521-38246-7.
- Blumer, Herbert (1939). An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. New York: Social Science Research Council.
- Blumer, Herbert (1933). Movies and Conduct. New York: Macmillan & Company.
- Blumer, Herbert (1969). Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
- Coser, Lewis A. (1977). Masters of Sociological Thought; Ideas in the Historical and Sociological Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jonanovich. ISBN 0-15-555130-2.
- Couch, Carl J. (1991). "Review: The Dilemma of Qualitative Method: Herbert Blumer and the Chicago Tradition, by Martyn Hammersley". Contemporary Sociology 20 (1): 160–161. JSTOR 2072168.
- Farganis, James (2008). Readings in Social Theory (5th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-352813-7.
- Gerhardt, Uta (2000). "Ambivalent Interactionist: Anselm Strauss and the ‘schools’ of Chicago Sociology". The American Sociologist 31 (4): 34–64. doi:10.1007/s12108-000-1010-3.
- Gonsalves, Peter (2010). Clothing for Liberation, A Communication Analysis of Gandhi's Swadeshi Revolution. London: Sage. ISBN 978-81-321-0310-3.
- Gonsalves, Peter (2012). Khadi: Gandhi's Mega Symbol of Subversion. London: Sage. ISBN 978-81-321-0735-4.
- Griffin, E. (1997). A First Look at Communication Theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
- Keys, David; Maratea, R. J. (2011). "Life experience and the value-free foundations of Blumer's collective behavior theory". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 47 (2): 173–186. doi:10.1002/jhbs.20494.
- Larson, Calvin J. (1986). Sociological Theory from the Enlightenment to the Present. Bayside, NY: General Hall. ISBN 0-930390-72-5.
- Lyman, Stanford M.; Vidich, Arthur J. (1988). Social Order and the Public Philosophy: An Analysis and Interpretation of the Work of Herbert Blumer. The University of Arkansas Press.
- Ritzer, George (1996). Classical Sociological Theory. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-053017-3.