Mead's Analysis of Social Conflcit: A Radical Interactionist's Critique
American Sociologist 43, 428-447, December 2012
Lonnie Athens, D.Crim
Criminal Justice Program
Because Mead entered the pantheon of classic sociological thinkers much later than Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, sociologists have unsurprisingly devoted much more critical attention to their ideas than his. Perhaps, nowhere is the lack of this attention on their part more glaring than in his explanation of social conflict.Mead views the emergence and resolution of conflict as taking place within the social act, in which either individuals or groups may be the acting units, and attitudes, roles,significant symbols, and attitudinal assumption operate as the common, key components. As far as the emergence of conflict is concerned, he accounts for it on the basis of insufficient differentiation of roles, non-meritorious allocation of roles, and adoption of self-centered attitudes on the part of the participants during their construction of a social act. As far as the resolution of conflict is concerned, he predictably explains it on the basis of their expansion of role differentiation, distribution of roles on basis of merit, and the adoption of other-centered attitudes.Despite that Mead’s explanation of the resolution and emergence of conflict is relatively consistent and offers many profound insights, it suffers from several irresolvable problems.All these various problems can be traced back to his decision to rest his explanation on his much cherished principle of "sociality," rather than domination, and thereby, ultimately,his rejection of a radical interactionist's perspective. Thus, it is now long overdue for sociologists to consider the merits of a new, more radical interactionism as a replacement for his much older and more conventional counterpart, symbolic interactionism.