How individuals understand themselves in social contexts

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … acting; self-perception
  • Learner is … an actor (in a social context)
  • Learning is … self-becoming
  • Teaching is … influencing




Interactionism focuses on meaning that arises in face-to-face social interactions as it studies how individuals shape and are shaped by society. Interactionism is especially interested in understanding individuals – that is, how they act and how they see themselves in their social contexts. Social interaction is understood to include all language, gestures, and mannerisms, and it is seen have the goal of communication with others.


With its focus on the individual and its interest in social context, Interactionism is described by some as sitting between Phenomenology and Social Constructionism. That positioning might be seen as a strength, but in many critical commentaries it is targeted as a weakness. For example, whereas social class is a major consideration within Social Constructionism, it can be considered unimportant in some studies oriented by Interactionism – simply because generalizations based on large groups of people cannot be assumed of or imposed on individuals under study.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

George Herbert Mead

Status as a Theory of Learning

Interactionism is a theory of learning, with a particular focus on social influences on individual identity.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Interactionism is not a scientific theory of teaching, although the interactive structure of the teacher–student relationship is a common focus of researchers oriented by Interactionism.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Interactionism is both a theoretical and a methodological discourse. Regard the latter, it was among the perspectives that helped pave the way to research methods in the human and social sciences that did not rely on measurement and replication. Interactionism meets our criteria of a scientific theory.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Interactionism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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