Structural symbolic interaction and identity theory: The Indiana school and beyond

Richard T. Serpe, Robin Stryker, Brian Powell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter provides an overview of the development of symbolic interaction and identity theory as a prelude to introducing the theoretical and methodological advances to these traditions contributed by authors of subsequent chapters in this book. Built on the pioneering work of George HerbertMead and others, symbolic interactionism focuses on the reciprocal relationship between self and society, in which shared meanings constructed through interaction with others influence social behavior. Where the paradigm originally centered on analyzing micro-social encounters, highlighting specific characteristics of situations and actors, over time it extended its focus to understanding patterns in interaction across situations and time, suggesting that social structure explained these patterns. In the late 1960s, Sheldon Stryker began to codify the premises of structural symbolic interaction. From this, identity theory developed and, over the next five decades, came to encompass both structural and perceptual research agendas. Where the former elucidates behavioral processes relating hierarchies of identity salience structuring the self to patterns of identity commitments and role behaviors, the situational enactments of which are embedded in networks, groups and social institutions, the latter elucidates perceptual control processes exercised by the mind in response to the feedback that self receives from others in interaction. Over time, identity theory's initial focus on role identities broadened to include group identities and person identities, and bridges developed between identity theory and other theories and paradigms in sociology and the social sciences more generally. These include bridges to theories such as affect control theory and identity accumulation theory, built upon symbolic interactionist premises, and bridges to theories and paradigms beyond symbolic interactionism, including exchange theory and social identity theory. The chapter ends with a preview of ideas and findings developed in the rest of the book.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIdentity and Symbolic Interaction
Subtitle of host publicationDeepening Foundations, Building Bridges
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9783030412319
ISBN (Print)9783030412302
StatePublished - Apr 22 2020


  • Commitment
  • Identity
  • Identity prominence
  • Identity salience
  • Identity theory
  • Identity verification
  • Structural symbolic interactionism
  • Symbolic interactionism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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