Blumer, Herbert

(1900-86)
Blumer studied at the University of Chicago and taught George Herbert Mead's classes after the latter's death in the early 1930s. In 1937, for an overview article on the nature of social psychology in Man and Society (edited by W. Schmidt), he coined the term symbolic interactionism -hence literally becoming the founder of this tradition. Later, when he held the first Chair of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, he influenced several generations of interactionist sociologists as well as encouraging diversity in one of North America's leading sociology departments. He held many important offices, including the presidency of both the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
His abiding concern was that sociology should become the down-to-earth study of group life. He outlined this position in his major book Symbolic Interactionism (1969). Blumer disliked the tendency for sociologists to analyse phenomena that they had not witnessed first-hand, and had a particular abhorrence of grand, especially abstract theory. Instead, he advocated a methodology that would explore and inspect the rich variety of social experience, as it was lived; would build up ‘sensitizing concepts’ from experience; that would produce theories directly grounded in empirical data; and would determine the relevance of such theories by a continual return to the evidence. Substantively, he was interested in the mass media, fashion, collective behaviour, industrial relations, race relations, and life-history research. His work is appraised in an edition of the journal Symbolic Interaction (1988) published shortly after his death.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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