Symbolic interactionism is a sociological framework that states that people develop subjective interpretations of events based on their social interactions. In other words, following the ideas of Max Weber, people's interpretations of events affect their experiences and the way in which they construct meaning. George Herbert Mead popularized this idea in the U.S. in the 1920s.
Symbolic interactionism has been applied to family studies since the early 1900s. Much of the focus on the research has been on roles—the ways in which family members define their roles based on gender and other variables, and the way in which these roles change or are defined differently after changes such as the birth of a child.
Social change within the family involves changing the meanings or interpretations that family members attach to specific roles. For example, do they always see the mother as the traditional healer and caregiver, while they regard the father as the breadwinner? Change involves changing the subjective views family members have of these roles. Individuals may also see their roles in the family in symbolic ways—for example, one child may define himself or herself as the "good child," while the other defines him or herself as the "rebel." The individual and family are affected by the way in which the family makes collective meaning out of their experience, and change involves changing the ways individuals and the collective family think about their roles and other interactions in a symbolic way.