DEFINING THE SITUATION
Defining the situation refers to the process through which humans go when trying to comprehend the social situations in which they find themselves and deciding on what values and norms are relevant in guiding social interaction.
If one contrasts macro-structural studies and symbolic interactionism, this concept is associated with the latter.
The structural view tends rather to focus on the situation individuals are in, not on their definition of the situation.
The term 'Defining the situation' was first used by W.I. Thomas (1863-1947).
Thomas brought the concept of social situation to the center of social psychology. "The situation is the set of values and attitudes with which the individual or the group has to deal in a process of activity and with regard to which this activity is planned and its results appreciated." - The Polish Peasant.
The situation includes three varieties of data. First,
there are "the objective conditions under which the individual or society has to act,
that is, the totality of values . . . which at the given moment affect directly or
indirectly the conscious states of the individual or the group." Second, there are
the pre-existing attitudes of the individual or of the group which at the given moment
have an actual influence upon his behavior. Third, the definition of the situation, that
is, "the more or less clear conception of the conditions and consciousness of
attitudes."- The Polish Peasant.
The Thomas Theorem and the Matthew Effect - As we see, this
essentially methodological observation draws upon the basic substantive concept of
"defining the situation" - jstor.org