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Symbolic interactionism and critical perspective: divergent or synergistic?

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Throughout their history, symbolic interactionism and critical perspective have been viewed as divergent theoretical perspectives with different philosophical underpinnings. A review of their historical and philosophical origins reveals both points of divergence and areas of convergence. Their underlying philosophies of science and views of human freedom are different as is their level of focus with symbolic interactionism having a micro perspective and critical perspective using a macro perspective. This micro/macro difference is reflected in the divergence of their major concepts, goals and basic tenets. While their underlying philosophies are different, however, they are not necessarily contradictory and areas of convergence may include the concepts of reference groups and looking glass self within symbolic interactionism and ideological hegemony within critical perspective. By using a pragmatic approach and combining symbolic interactionism and critical perspectives, both micro and macro levels come into focus and strategies for change across individual and societal levels can be developed and applied. Application of both symbolic interactionism and critical perspective to nursing research and scholarship offers exciting new opportunities for theory development and research methodologies. In nursing education, these two perspectives can give students added insight into patients' and families' problems at the micro level while, at the same time, giving them a lens to see and tools to apply to problems at the macro level in health care. In nursing practice, a combined symbolic interactionism/critical perspective approach assists nurses to give high-quality care at the individual level while also working at the macro level to address the manufacturers of illness. New research questions emerge from this combination of perspectives with new possibilities for theory development, a transformation in nursing education, and the potential for new practice strategies that can address individual client and larger system problems through empowerment of clients and nurses.

Keywords: critical theory; interactionism; medical ideology; nursing theory; pluralism; pragmatism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Associate Professor, College of Nursing, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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