Skip to main content
Select Source:

Meaning

Meaning

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In the social sciences, the concept of meaning has been understood theoretically in three different ways, which can be called the mirroring, constructivist, and production perspectives.

The mirroring perspective derives from the work of Max Weber (18641920), who called attention to the subjective interpretations that people create to describe or explain their social experience. Whether or not these meanings are conveyed to others, they are social to the extent that they are broadly characteristic of those who share a similar position within the structure of social relationships. For example, according to a study of television audiences in Israel, the meanings viewers ascribed to the American television series Dallas had much more to do with ethnicity than with whatever meanings might have been intended by the shows scriptwriters and directors. Arabs saw the show as a moral drama exemplifying how American immorality inexorably led to chaos in interpersonal relationships, while Jews who recently immigrated from Russia saw it as a social drama portraying the evils of the capitalist system (Liebes and Katz 1990). Similarly, in the United States and United Kingdom, men and women have been repeatedly found to view corporate leadership roles differently. For most men, effective leadership means setting up a forceful and consistently applied system of rewards and punishments. For most women, it means showing others how to transform ones individual goals into group goals so that teams can work more effectively and harmoniously (Alimo-Metcalfe 1995). In the mirroring perspective, the social meanings that people are found to have about the social world are seen to stem from their differing experience of a social structure in which prestige, wealth, and power are unequally distributed. Although shared social meanings can foster a sense of shared identity, when viewed through the lens of the mirroring perspective, they are essentially epiphenomenal and close to irrelevant for explanatory purposes. For example, studies of corporate leadership styles have largely failed to demonstrate that these differing meanings are related to the style female leaders actually choose.

The constructivist perspective, in contrast, emphasizes how people employ agency in order to create and deploy social meanings within fields of social relations that are contentious, fluid, and imperfectly defined: a world of becoming rather than being. This perspective derives from a variety of 1960s theoretical innovations, including symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, ethnomethodology, structuralism, social movement theory, pragmatics, and social constructivism. The constructivist perspective turns the mirroring perspective on its head: Social structure is seen as the consequence of the constant and contentious efforts people make to create meanings and, by means of communicative behaviors, to frame social situations in terms of those meanings. In its most radical forms, constructivists deny that what Émile Durkheim (18581917) would call social factsobjectively measurable patterns of social behavior that are external to individual motivationshave any a priori existence whatsoever. For example, medicine has struggled unsuccessfully for decades to define a self-neglect syndrome in objective, medical terms. If a self-neglect syndrome can be said to exist in an objective sense, it is only because, within the field of medical relations, some patients have emphasized self-neglect behaviors in order to frame the situation in light of their understanding of it; alternatively, a medical organization has identified certain patient behaviors as self-neglect in order to alter the patients position and rights within a medical organization.

The production perspective, the most recent of the three, derives from the work of British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1993) and, more recently, the flourishing subfield of cultural sociology. It seeks to strike a balance between the mirroring and constructivist perspectives by emphasizing the dialectic between, on the one hand, social forces that really are larger than the individual (such as institutionalized discrimination), and, on the other hand, the attempts by individuals and groups to try to frame situations to their advantage. In order to do so, they draw on the stock of meanings at hand, but they also create new ones or repackage the old ones in new ways. From the production perspective, the interpretation of Dallas offered by Arab citizens of Israel is part of a broader meaning-formation strategy that is being pursued by Sunni Arab communities throughout the Middle East: It involves a rejection of the secularism and perceived immorality of Western societies in favor of a radically reformulated, fundamentalist version of Islam known as Wahhabism. In contrast to constructivist approaches, which almost invariably emphasize interpersonal interaction as the medium in which meanings are defined, the production perspective is equally attuned to the institutions, technologies, and media that meaning-producers appropriate as they attempt to frame the meaning of situations. For example, the rise of Islamic moral and religious fundamentalism in Sunni Arab communities is clearly related to Saudi Arabias lavishly funded and influential system of religious schools and to the rise of Arabic media, including satellite television stations, that are independent of Western control and censorship.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Constructivism; Durkheim, Émile; Giddens, Anthony; Identity; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Linguistic Turn; Media; Phenomenology; Representation; Television; Weber, Max

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alimo-Metcalfe, Beverly. 1995. An Investigation of Female and Male Constructs of Leadership and Empowerment. Women in Management Review 10 (2): 38.

Giddens, Anthony. 1993. New Rules of Sociological Method: A Positive Critique of Interpretative Sociologies. 2nd ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Liebes, Tamar, and Elihu Katz. 1990. The Export of Meaning: Cross-Cultural Readings of Dallas. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Max. [1921] 1968. Economy and Society. Trans. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. New York: Bedminster.

Bryan Pfaffenberger

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Meaning." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Meaning." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/meaning

"Meaning." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/meaning

meaning

meaning, meaningful action It would be difficult to imagine any sociological study which did not, implicitly or explicitly, look at how people think about the social world and social relationships–in other words at the meanings that the social has for individuals and groups. Indeed, some schools of thought argue that meaning is the only object for sociology, as against those which look for causal explanations by reference to, for example, social structures.

The concept of meaningful action is most closely associated with Max Weber, who distinguishes it from behaviour; that is, from merely physical movement to which the actor does not attach a meaning (for example blinking). Meaningful social action, by contrast, is action directed towards others and to which we can attach a subjective meaning. In this sense, praying alone in a church is meaningful action, as is participating in a church service. Most later theorists accept that these distinctions cannot easily be maintained and take the view that attaching a meaning to something (‘mere behaviour’) is itself an action; and, moreover, a social action because it draws on a socially constructed and accepted language. See also ACTION THEORY; INTERPRETATION.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"meaning." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"meaning." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning

"meaning." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning

meaning

mean·ing / ˈmēning/ • n. what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action: the meaning of the word “supermarket” | it was as if time had lost all meaning. ∎  implied or explicit significance: he gave me a look full of meaning. ∎  important or worthwhile quality; purpose: this can lead to new meaning in the life of older people. • adj. intended to communicate something that is not directly expressed: she gave Gabriel a meaning look. PHRASES: not know the meaning of the word inf. behave as if unaware of the concept referred to or implied: “Humanity?” You don't know the meaning of the word!DERIVATIVES: mean·ing·ly adv.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"meaning." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"meaning." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning-0

"meaning." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning-0

MEANING

MEANING.
1. The purport or message conveyed by WORDS, PHRASES, SENTENCES, SIGNS, SYMBOLS, and the like: ‘Semantics’ means ‘the study of meaning’; A red traffic light means drivers have to stop and a green one means they can go.

2. Signification, sense, interpretation, as in The Meaning of Meaning, the title of a book on SEMANTICS by C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards (1923); any instance of these, as in What is the meaning of the word ‘semantics’?

3. What a speaker or writer intends: What do you mean?; They don't mean any harm. See LANGUAGE, SEMIOTICS.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"MEANING." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"MEANING." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/meaning-0

"MEANING." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/meaning-0

meaning

meaningcharming, disarming •Fleming, lemming •Deeming, scheming, steaming •trimming • timing • heartwarming •house-warming •coaming, gloaming, homing, Wyoming •assuming •becoming, coming, forthcoming, mumming, up-and-coming •oncoming • shortcoming •homecoming • upcoming •mind-numbing •Canning, Manning, undermanning •Denning, kenning •caning, entertaining, self-sustaining, uncomplaining •greening, leaning, meaning, overweening, screening, spring-cleaning •sweetening • evening •beginning, inning, thinning, twinning, underpinning, winning •prizewinning •lining, signing, Twining, vining •lightning •aborning, awning, dawning, morning, mourning, spawning, warning •Browning, Downing, drowning •landowning • tuning • cunning •gunrunning • unquestioning •widening • stiffening • reckoning •thickening • happening • sharpening •opening • fastening • christening •unthreatening •lightening, unenlightening •self-governing •reasoning, seasoning •poisoning •discerning, Herning, turning, yearning •woodturning

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"meaning." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"meaning." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning

"meaning." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/meaning