Tag Archives: symbolic interactionism

Introducing Blossom

blossom

blossom

We have a new dog! Her name is Blossom. She is as beautiful as a flower, but looks can deceive. It didn’t take long for us to deduce that Blossom is a Hound in Lab’s clothing, perhaps even a Plott–the so called ninja fighter of the dog world. I got my first inkling, when I noticed that the growth of her head was not keeping pace with the fluid folds draping around her neck. Each day, new evidence pointed to the same conclusion. How does that song go: You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time.

Not that hounds aren’t wonderful dogs. Like Labs, they are extremely smart, and make loving pets. They are known for their high energy, playfulness, and affectionate natures. Understandably, they are recommended for active, young adults, especially those who live in rural areas. The problem–or should I say challenge–is that they are strong willed and thus difficult to socialize, taking up to two years in some cases. And we have only just begun!.

They are strong willed and difficult to socialize. And we have only just begun!

Born in a shelter, Blossom was rescued and “hand” raised by my daughter-in-law Haley, who brought her to live with us when Blossom was eight weeks old. To prepare for the event, we purchased a number of puppy books, especially those by dog wisperer, Cesar Milan. His approach reminds me of Blumer‘s symbolic interactionism. According to Cesar, dog training is all about appropriate two-way communications. Owners need to understand the dog’s frame of reference, and communicate their expectations based on the dog’s interpretation of its world. At the same time, dogs need to correctly assess their owner’s needs based on the cues they observe. Alas, in the case of Blossom, I think the cards are stacked against me; for she understands me, and can manipulate me, far better than I understand and manipulate her. Thus, for example, when bored, and craving attention, all she needs to do is to scout out my prize possessions and with a self-satisfied swagger parade them directly in front of me. Even as she provokes, she is adorable.

Blossom: The Easy Life

Blossom: The Easy Life

Picking up the stray pieces of my surroundings, I reassure myself, saying that, determined as Blossom is to have her own way, time is on my side. With each interaction, we are constructing and expanding our mutual understanding and, with it, a space where we can share a rich and rewarding future together. I remind myself, two years isn’t so long. Already, its three steps forward, and only one back. Tomorrow it will be four.

Up, Up, And Away!

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

Up, Up and Away in my beautiful machine. Remember that song from Sesame Street? Driving to the lake in our new Ford Focus, I felt like I was flying high. Off we were to our summer cottage in the New Jersey Highlands, with two cars in tandem, both stuffed to the brim with our treasured possessions–our books, are tapes, our CDs, our cloths, and of course our dog Sparky.

A new car you say? You are environmentalists, non-materialists! How did that come about?

Well, we had been thinking about it for a long time. Although our 20 year old CRX si (the last of its make) had served us well, it had seen better times. As well, we were beginning to creak, just like the CRX, so it was harder and harder to take advantage of its sporty appurtenances. Nonetheless, we procrastinated, not wanting to let go of the happy memories and associations that our CRX evoked. As importantly, negotiating a car deal is intimidating; much as in the case of birthing a baby, we had to wait until the pain of the previous experience had subsided before trying again.

We had to wait until the pain of the previous experience subsided, before trying again

What helped to overcome our inertia was our desire to bring all our stuff with us on our vacation to Hawthorne Lake. No doubt, it would take two cars. Did we really need all this paraphernalia? Most likely not! But, as one might well imagine, even though we could not possibly read all the books, wear all the cloths, nor listen to all the CDs that we had packed, together they comprised a web of connections and affordances, which made it easier for us to carry out our routine away from home.

so many choices

so many choices

The subject of things continued to preoccupy me even after we had unpacked our cars, put everything in its place, and settled into our cottage on the lake. For once I was ensconsed in the old wicker chair at the end of our long screened-in porch, the first book I drew from my grand pile was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s The meaning of things: Domestic symbols and the self.

Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s perspective on the role of things is quite unique. Unlike most sociologists, they are not focused on the relationship between things and status. Nor do they take an especially critical perspective of things, bemoaning the evils of consumerism. As significant, the authors rise above the technology determinism vs. social constructivism debate. Instead, grounded in the symbolic interactionism of George Herbert Mead, and the philosophical pragmatism of John Dewey, they view the interactions/transactions between people and and things as a two-way street.

Generations of Things

Generations of Things

Embodying past associations and psychic investments, objects convey symbolic meaning to those engaged with them. At the same time, the users of objects can extend that meaning by investing their own psychic energy in the object to pursue their own individual goals. Growth occurs in the process, with respect to both the object and the individual. As importantly, because objects embody meaning at three levels–the self, the community, and the cosmos–the network of objects with which we are surrounded help us to orient ourselves to function both as individuals as well as participants in a larger whole.

Our home at the lake epitomizes the narrative that Csikszentmihayli and Rochberg-Halton lay out. As they point out:

One of the most important psychological purposes of the home is that those objects that have shaped one’s personality and which are needed to express concretely those aspects of the self that one values are kept within it. Thus the home is not only a material shelter but also a shelter for those things that make life meaningful.

Crossepatch

Crossepatch

Built by my grandfather in 1908, our house at the lake is home to prized possessions that span five generations–the deer head over the fireplace, first edition books, the mission oak furniture, blackened cast iron pots, my mother’s rolling pin, my father’s fly rod, my childhood toys, my son’s tools, my grandchildren’s paintings, and–last but not least–our new car. They serve not only to link me back through the generations that preceded me; they instill in me the insight and impetus to keep our house and its environs in tack for the generations yet to come.