Symbolic interactionism focuses on the universal processes of the self—an emergent characteristic of humans—and how these processes impact behavior and identity. Coined by Herbert Blumer and extending the work of George Herbert Mead, social interactions are seen as the “nexus” in which society and self have a “reciprocal impact” on one another. Self and society are seen as mutually emergent phenomenon and the complexity of each must be accounted for, including the self’s active role in a collective interpretive process. Macro-forces exist outside of individuals, but the effects of these forces are not predetermined. While social structures constrain the situations and choices an individual faces, they do not determine precisely how an individual will respond. The interpretive aspect of social interaction rests on the assumption that human beings do not simply react to each other; rather symbols, objects that have meaning, are exchanged and interpretations formed before action takes place. As a key element of symbolic interactionist theory, social interaction of the symbolic type refers to interaction in which the individual interprets the other’s gesture/action and then constructs action based on the interpretation. Social interaction is where self and societies meet. Through interpretive processes the self assigns meanings in a manner that gives them social significance. While the macrosociological approach highlights the economic, political, and cultural shifts that contextualize the human trafficking trade, a micro-sociological approach highlights the emerging situations, interactions, and individual interpretations that color and shape the everyday lives of individuals involved. Drawing from symbolic interactionism and parti cularly the work of Erving Goffman, we apply this perspective to the interactions of actors implicated in human trafficking. We liken the resocialization of victims to that experienced by individuals in total institutions, highlight the multiple definitions that each actor brings to situations, and the role of stigma as a conceptual tool for making sense of individuals’ attitudes and behaviors.
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