for Practice: Symbolic Interactionist Translations
by Debra Anderson
Practice: Symbolic Interactionist Translations, by
James A. Forte. 2001. University Press of America: Lanham, MD.
Practice: Symbolic Interactionist Translations represents the most
ambitious and comprehensive account of symbolic interactionism
(SI) I have encountered. Beginning with chapters one and two,
the author establishes SI as a foundation language for sociological
theorizing and social work practice. Symbolic interactionism,
he argues, is ideal for joining theory to practice because it
addresses micro, mezzo, and macro issues; is empirically sound;
committed to the social work themes of diversity, internationalism,
and empowerment; and is oriented toward social justice for vulnerable
populations (p. 5). For novices of SI, chapter two is notable
for its clear detailed explanation of this theoretical framework.
Each of the subsequent
ten chapters examines a different theoretical tradition from
the perspective of SI in order to "forge translations"
and encourage conversations between interactionism and other
theoretical frameworks (p. 19). The theories examined include
social behaviorism, psychoanalysis, cognitive theory, role theory,
systems theory, critical theory, feminist theory, evolutionary
theory, ecological theory, and economic theories.
begins with a history of conversations between the focal theory
and symbolic interactionism, followed by areas of agreement and
disagreement between the two. The history of conversations is
beneficial as it enables readers to gain an understanding of
the development of each theory as well as the ways in which each
evolved over time.
entitled "areas of agreement" and "areas of disagreement"
compare SI with the focal theory along several dimensions, including
the conception of the person, scientific inquiry, person-environment
focus, and so on. Notable here is the authors balanced
appraisal of SI. Although he supports its use as a master language,
he recognizes its weaknesses and encourages partnerships with
other theories to strengthen its application.
Then, each chapter
includes a section in which symbolic interactionist language
is used to translate the major concepts of the focal theory.
Although the author attempts to bridge the differences between
SI and other theoretical traditions, readers unfamiliar with
the concepts and language games used by each theoretical framework
may become confused rather than enlightened by this section.
concludes by offering illustrative exemplars that merge the focal
theory with SI perspectives to address social problems such as
prison conditions, homelessness, and domestic violence. This
section is of particular value as the examples are based on problems
and interventions familiar to social workers.
The text concludes
by advocating that symbolic interactionism provides the "best
master language" (p. 479) for a marriage between theory
and practice and a partnership between sociology and social work.
Practice: Symbolic Interactionism Translations is useful to social
work educators seeking to increase their understanding of symbolic
interactionism. In particular, professors of human behavior and
the social environment and/or knowledge development courses will
appreciate the depth and scope of the authors coverage
of SI and other theoretical traditions. Further, graduate and
doctoral level social work students who desire to increase their
theoretical proficiency will find the text challenging but informative.
However, I would not use this text in undergraduate social work
education as its dense nature requires that students come with
a sophisticated level of theory that goes beyond most undergraduate
Debra Anderson, PhD in Public Administration from the University
of Nebraska-Omaha, specializing in organizational theory and
change; MSW from the University of Missouri-Columbia, with a
concentration in administration and planning. Assistant Professor
of Social Work, Creighton University, Omaha, NE.
© 2002 White