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Symbolic Interactionism was a dominant form of American sociology in the early days of the 20th Century. It is based on the pragmatic philosphy of James Dewey and William James, as well as the work of George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley at the University of Chicago. Symbolic Interactionism assumes that actors negotiate social reality through interaction. It attaches a key role to meaning and subjective experience in the study of society.

Faculty at the University of Iowa developed their own form of symbolic interactionism based on these principles. Two key figures in this development were Manford Kuhn and Carl Couch. The Iowa School was characterized by the assumption that human experience, while subjective, could be understood empirically and theoretically. Unlike the Chicago school, associated with the work of Herbert Blumer and his colleagues which focused on the novel and creative aspects of interaction, Iowa symbolic interactionists focused on consistencies between interactions. The self, rather than a completely fluid construct recreated from situation to situation, was instead characterized as having a solid core of meanings that ground interaction in a larger societal and cultural context.

There are now many approaches to the study of self, identity, and interaction. Many current theories in social psychology make use of the assumptions of the Iowa school, together with a vast literature on self processes in psychology, to inform our understanding of human interaction.

These researchers also established a key laboratory for the study of social interaction at the University of Iowa. The Center for the Study of Group Processes began as a small group interaction laboratory dedicated to the understanding of dynamic social interaction. Today, the CSGP is reknowned as a place where faculty and students collect key data testing theories in social psychology.

If you are interested, follow the links below to learn a little bit more about the people who helped build the Iowa School, and the impact their work has had on contemporary theory.

If you would like to know more about the Center for the Study of Group Processes, please follow this link.