Issues and themes

In today’s societies, the demand for recognition and integration of individual and collective identities carrying different characters from established social and cultural models is generating social conflict, often worrying and disturbing. One of the reactions that appears to be more widespread is that of closure. From the construction of (new) walls to the closure of ports and borders, resistance to the acceptance of diversity is taking on new and unexpected forms, which cross a great number of phenomena. The resurgence of gender-based violence, and of stigmatization processes based on race, ethnicity, sexual, political and religious inclinations of people, are new mirrors of previous forms of segmentation and social and cultural division. Furthermore, we cannot forget that the economic crisis of the last 10 years is still manifesting its effects in many countries, such as the expansion of the poor and of marginal groups, which are located near social borders based on the difficulty of access to social resources that would guarantee a more dignified life. The anger and discontent that accompany these processes of new segregations and social and cultural confinements, are not adequately listened to and interpreted by the political classes, and in many European countries feelings of closure and mistrust begin to prevail; events and phenomena such as Brexit, sovereignty, the rise of populisms, however different, show different faces of the same process oriented to the enhancement of national, political and cultural identities instead of the search for relationships and negotiation. At the same time, there are processes that signal the need, by many groups, to go beyond the new social divisions, to generate new forms of dialogue and openness, in a word, of reconciling cultural visions and the diverse social positions that seem in competition with one another. Many, especially young people, but also adults and the elderly, prefer to go beyond the borders, and move in search of new opportunities so that their characteristics and skills are effectively recognized and valued. In many geographical areas we are witnessing the spread of social and political movements from below that promote styles of participation and social integration based on meeting and enhancing diversity; on the sensitivity to overcoming old and new selfishness and social divisions, evoking the need for innovative forms of coexistence, based on the recognition of social and civil rights, on the realization of ever higher levels of social justice, on the enhancement of common goods and local welfare and community. This also implies recognizing the importance that conflict can have in the dynamics of interaction, but to discover forms of overcoming or, at least, sublimation of the dynamics of division and conflicting competition.

In this framework, Symbolic Interactionism constitutes one of the theoretical and empirical frameworks able to analyze these phenomena, to interpret their scope and effects in people’s lives, and also to signal its relevance both on an empirical and theoretical level. Symbolic Interactionism can respond with its dual vocation and perspective oriented to grasping social processes in the depths of their making and unfolding starting from social and symbolic interactions, and at the same time oriented to enhancing those dimensions of existence that promote the recognition of rights, the attention to the least and the vulnerable, the overcoming of social boundaries and divisions and the reconciliation of competing perspectives in the dynamics of continuous negotiation and renegotiation of new and sustainable social equilibria.