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them laugh or cry, or to do all the various things people do in relation to others. Wherever others make any difference to what we do, wherever we think of others as we act, there is an example of social action!

The key to social action is acting with others in mind.

Social action is intentional action. I think of others as I act.  

Not all acts are social acts. If I open an umbrella because it is raining—that is not a social act. However, if I open an umbrella because I do not want others to think I am a fool for walking exposed to the rain in my good clothes—then it becomes a social act.

Mutual Social Action Is Social Interaction

Much of what humans do results from their interaction. Sometimes I take you into account when I act; likewise, you take me into account when you act. The presence of each makes a difference for the other’s acts. This is mutual social action or simply social action. Each person is both subject and object; that is, each person acts toward the others and is in turn considered an object by the others. The presence of each and the actions of each make a difference to the others’ actions.

Interaction is also very important because it is the source of our socialization. To some extent, every time we interact, we are being socialized.

Social interaction is important because it leads to social patterns.

It is the very basis for all social organization. Imagine what happens in interaction over time. We develop relationships. We know more about what to expect from each other; we come to understand more clearly each other’s meanings and intentions; we can agree on a number of matters; we develop routines of action; and we are less and less surprised by others’ actions. We have developed social patterns, and these create a social organization of which we become a part.

Social Organization Is Patterned Social Interaction

Patterned social interaction is what sociologists call interaction where action becomes more organized, less spontaneous, less accidental or different, and we come to know what others will do and what we are supposed to do in relation to them. We do not have to start over; we do not have to explore how to act with each other whenever we come together.

Patterns are more than the individuals who comprise them; they are like new, additional forces that have arisen among people and now exert influence on each individual. They are not explainable just by adding up the individuals involved; they are social facts above and beyond the individuals themselves.

Thus, when people interact over time, they are influenced not only by each other’s specific acts, but also by the patterns that have developed among them.

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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